Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)

Le Château de Chillon

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
Le Château de Chillon
signed 'G. Courbet' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21¼ x 25½ in. (54 x 64.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1874-1875
Decombaz collection, Switzerland.
Fréminet-Decombaz collection, Paris.
Thérèse Fréminet collection, Lausanne.
Bernard Naef collection, Geneva (by 1947).
Galerie Paul Vallotton, Lausanne.
Galerie Brame et Lorenceau, Paris (by September 1988).
Acquired by Achim Moeller Fine Art on behalf of John C. Whitehead.
R. Fernier, La vie et l’oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, Catalogue raisonné, Peintures, 1866-1877, Paris, 1978, vol. II, p. 196, no. 944 (illustrated, p. 197).
Achim Moeller Fine Art, ed., From Daumier to Matisse, Selections from the John C. Whitehead Collection, exh. cat., Achim Moeller Fine Art, New York, 2002, p. 23 (illustrated in color, p. 24).
Venice, XXVII Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, Courbet, June-October 1954, no. 49.
Lyon, Palais Saint-Pierre, Courbet, 1954, no. 55.
Paris, Petit Palais, Courbet, January-February 1955, no. 96.
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Gustave Courbet, December 1959-April 1960, no. 84 (illustrated).
Kunstmuseum Bern, Gustave Courbet, September-November 1962, no. 84.
Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, L’Impressionnisme dans les collections romandes, June-October 1984, no. 10 (illustrated).
Lausanne, Galerie Paul Vallotton, Maîtres suisses et français des XIX et XX siècles (anniversary exhibition 1913-1988), June-September 1988, no. 52 (illustrated).
Paris, Grand Palais, XIV Biennale Internationale des antiquaries, September-October 1988, p. 17 (illustrated).
The Montclair Art Museum, Late XIX and Early XX Century French Masters, The John C. Whitehead Collection, April-June 1989, p. 16, no. 12 (illustrated in color, p. 17).

Brought to you by

Morgan Schoonhoven
Morgan Schoonhoven

Lot Essay

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

The Château de Chillon is situated on the edge of Lake Geneva several miles away from La Tour-de-Peilz where Courbet lived in exile from 1873 until the end of his life. At the time, the Château was a well-known and frequently visited tourist destination, as the castle’s history and dramatic setting on a promontory overlooking the lake had made it a favorite subject in illustrated travel books, topological prints and postcards.
During its long history, the castle housed many political prisoners, of whom the most celebrated was François Bonivard, who spent four years chained to a column in the dungeon from 1532 to 1536. The castle held a particularly strong appeal for the Romantic imagination, with its penchant for medieval history and imagery: Turner included it in watercolors, drawings and oil paintings after his visit to Switzerland in 1802 and with the publication of Lord Byron’s famous poem The Prisoner of Chillon (1819), itself inspired by Bonivard’s captivity, the castle acquired new fame throughout Europe. The most famous illustration of Bonivard’s incarceration is Eugène Delacroix’s painting The Prisoner of Chillon, painted in 1835 and currently in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Courbet was certainly conscious of the political and cultural resonance of the place and its association with political martyrdom, and it would have held a strong personal meaning for him.
Courbet’s exile was the result of his participation in the affair of the Vendôme column so for the later years of his life the artist was forced to live away from his beloved Franche-Comté. Courbet was depressed, melancholy and financially ruined, mostly because he was forced to pay personally for the rebuilding of the column.
Courbet painted the Château many times during his exile in Switzerland and there are multiple variations of the present composition. This view of the exterior of the castle, a Roman fortress that was expanded in the eleventh century, allowed the artist to play with the surface of the stone of the massive architectural exterior, the level of the water of Lake Geneva and the massiveness of the French Alps rising in the background. Perhaps these elements reminded the homesick artist of the rocky outcroppings of the landscape in the environs of Ornans, and the waves lapping against the walls of the castle of his paysages de mer executed in his heyday of the 1860s. The tone of this painting is very personal to Courbet, "no atmospheric variation troubles the eternal calm of the site; the painting gives rise to the sense of place eternally fixed, which is doubtless related to the sensation of enclosure and constraint the artist experienced, profoundly, in exile" (D. de Font-Réaulx, Gustave Courbet, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2008, p. 422).

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