Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)
Property from the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts
Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)

La manche, environs d'Étretat

Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)
La manche, environs d'Étretat
signed and dated 'G Courbet 72' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23½ x 31¾ in. (59.7 x 80.6 cm.)
Sale R.L.L., Paris, 22 April 1876, no. 7.
André Derain, Paris.
with Galerie Charpentier, 22 March 1955, no. 64, purchased from the above.
(possibly) with M. Knoedler & Co., New York.
Mr. and Mrs. R. T. Coe, Kansas City before 1965.
R. Fernier, Courbet, 1819-1877, catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1977, vol. II, pp. 150-151, no. 821.
Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City Collects, 22 January - 28 February 1965.
Sale room notice
Please note that Lot 28 was not previously with Durand-Ruel, Paris, as mentioned in the catalogue as possible provenance.

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Lot Essay

The sea was always a source of great inspiration for Courbet. On his first visit to Le Havre in 1841 he wrote to his parents of the expansiveness of spirit that the experience evoked in him: 'I am delighted with this trip, which has quite developed my ideas about different things I need for my art. We finally saw the sea - the horizonless sea; how odd it is for a valley dweller. We saw the beautiful boats that sail upon it. It is too inviting, one feels carried away; one would leave to see the whole world.' (Letters of Gustave Courbet, Edited and translated by P. Ten-Doesschate Chu, Chicago, 1992, 41-2, p. 38). Throughout his long career, the sea would hold a special fascination for the artist, and these paysages de mer, as he referred to them, were among the most sought-after of Courbet's images.

On his first visit to the Channel Coast in 1865, Courbet invented a type of seascape he called 'Low Tides'. These seascapes were abstract in their constructions of compositional bands of complex interactions of color and textured brushstrokes and were based upon acute observation of sea and sky. Courbet returned to the Channel Coast for his last visit in 1869 and produced more than twenty-nine seascapes. Many were either finished later in his studio in Paris or he created variants of already completed paintings. Courbet contributed two of these landscapes to the Salon of 1870 and these solidified the painter's reputation as a marine artist.

Charles Baudelaire considered Courbet's art as the antithesis of 'Raphaelesque Beauty' because of the artist's complete dedication to 'external, positive and immediate Nature' (C. Baudelaire, Art in Paris, 1845-1862: Salons and Other Exhibitions Reviewed by Charles Baudelaire, Translated and edited by J. Mayne, London, 1965, pp. 131-132). Unlike artists who came before him who explored the sea in its relation to humankind, Courbet found no symbolic meaning in the sea. His seascapes are completely devoid of human presence and narrative. He would sometimes include an occasional boat, but his marines remain simply the representation of a natural phenomenon. Courbet painted the sea en plein air, and his seascapes demonstrate both his direct experiences of the sea as well as the distillations of those experiences. Courbet's reaction to the sea was visceral in its intensity and the physical manifestation of the artist's emotion is clearly evident in every aspect of the creation of a paysage de mer.

La manche environs d'Etretat, most likely completed in the Paris clinic where Courbet, after his release from prison, stayed for the first five months of 1872, is characteristic of the 'Low Tides' paintings of the late 1860s. The sea is ebbing away from the shore at sunset, with its white-capped waves gently lapping at the rocky beach. It is in the transition from sea to sky that Courbet captures and conveys in an almost abstract manner the color gradations of Normandy at sunset. The dark blue and white of the sea is separated from the teal blue, pink and lavender of the sky by the rose and grey clouds that hover at the horizon line. These bands of color capture the spatial enormity of the sea and anchor the composition where they meet at the horizon line. These chromatic harmonies are further accentuated by Courbet's choices in his handling of paint - the dark underpainting in the foreground has the color mixed in, scraped off and laid on again with a palette knife. The same is true of the clouds in the sky. The overall effect is one of color absorbing light, and both color and light are as palpable as the rocks, beach and cliffs.

It is not surprising that La manche environs d'Étretat was at one time owned by the artist André Derain, who was clearly drawn to its chromatic harmonies and abstracted composition.

We are grateful to Sarah Faunce for confirming the authenticity of this painting.

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