Courbet's Last Nude Painting Goes to Auction
Wednesday, May 17th 2023
Barnebys, Gritta von Toll
Gustave Courbet (1819 Ornans - 1877 La-Tour-de-Peilz), Grande baigneuse (Femme nue couchée au bord de l'eau), around 1869, signed, oil on canvas, 83.3 x 160 cm. Image © Rouillac (detail)
Gustave Courbet's late work, which is also the artist's largest nude painting in auction history, was discovered in a collection in 2013 and will now go under the hammer in early June.The oeuvre of Gustave Courbet comprises around 1,000 works. Only 50 of these are nudes, including the infamous L'Origine du monde from 1866, which was largely hidden from the public before it ended up in the Musée d'Orsay in 1995.
Measuring just 46 x 55 cm, L'Origine du monde was an intimate commissioned work for the Ottoman diplomat and art collector Halil Şerif Pasha. Measuring 83.3 x 160 cm, Courbet's Grande baigneuse (also called Femme nue couchée au bord de l'eau), which he painted three years later, has completely different dimensions. In 2013, the painting was discovered in a collection and thoroughly researched (the provenance could not be traced), before it was finally recognized by the Musée Courbet in Ornans and by the Société Courbet in Geneva and was exhibited in 2019 in the exhibition celebrating the painter's 200th birthday at the Musee Courbet.
Gustave Courbet (1819 Ornans - 1877 La-Tour-de-Peilz), La Source, 1868, oil on canvas, 128 x 97 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. The painting was shown alongside "Grande baigneuse" in the 2019 anniversary exhibition at the Musée Courbet in Ornans. Photo public domain
On June 4, Grande Baigneuse will go under the hammer at the 35th Garden Party auction of the Rouillac auction house at the Château d'Artigny in Touraine. The estimated price is €300,000-500,000 (about $330,000-550,000).
The work fits perfectly into the series of nude paintings by Gustave Courbet, who repeatedly explored this genre throughout his career. Courbet harmonized the depiction of bare flesh with his preferred subject: realistic landscape painting.
Gustave Courbet (1819 Ornans - 1877 La-Tour-de-Peilz), Grande baigneuse (Femme nue couchée au bord de l'eau), around 1869, signed, oil on canvas, 83.3 x 160 cm. Image © Rouillac
Courbet repeatedly approached nude painting in different ways. The small number of these works in his extensive oeuvre may be due to his intensive research and exploration of the subject. His works marry an almost academic flawlessness with a natural representation full of open-hearted eroticism.
Gustave Courbet (1819 Ornans - 1877 La-Tour-de-Peilz), Nu couché, 1866, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 65.4 cm, private collection, Switzerland. Public domain image
White sheets and forest landscapes with ponds and streams inspired by his homeland of Ornans can be found repeatedly, as in Grande baigneuse, which shows the protagonist in a casual pose reminiscent of Titian's Venus of Urbino, on the bank of a waterway. While one hand plays with the curls of loose brown hair, the fingers of the other hand are dipped in the water.
"La Dame de Munich" or "Femme vue de dos", print after a charcoal print by Etienne Carjat of the lost painting by Gustave Courbet from 1869. Photograph in the public domain
As can be deduced from an art dealer's label on the back of the canvas, Grande baigneuse was painted around 1869, when Gustave Courbet was at the height of his fame. Also celebrated internationally, Courbet was represented at the International Art Exhibition in the Glass Palace in Munich in the autumn of that year with a large hunting painting, which was very well received there. While still in Munich he began the nude painting La dame de Munich, which he completed in Ornans. Until the discovery of Grande baigneuse, the date of which cannot be precisely stated, the now lost work was regarded as the last nude painting by Gustave Courbet, who died in exile in Switzerland in 1877.
In addition to the important work of Gustave Courbet, the Rouillac Garden Party auction features a whole range of exceptional and exciting lots, including a wooden Citroën 2 CV, a 17th-century Mughal Indian talismanic shirt and a version of Lavinia Fontana's portrait of Antonietta Gonsalvus.
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