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Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)
Property from a distinguished Collection
Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)

Nature morte aux trois pommes

Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)
Nature morte aux trois pommes
oil on paper laid down on board
6 ¼ x 9 7/8 in. (15.9 x 25.1 cm.)
Friedrich Steffen (1922-2002), Geneva.
His gift to the Fondation La Coudre, Geneva.
Anonymous sale; Hôtel des Ventes de Genève, Geneva, 9 December 2009, lot 1293.

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Lot Essay

Apart from a group of about twenty still lives painted in the early 1860s, the vast majority of Courbet’s still lifes were, like the present painting, executed in 1871 and 1872, during and shortly after his confinement in Sainte- Pélagie prison for his part in the Commune uprising. Jean-Jacques Fernier has suggested that the present lot is probably the first sketch painted by the artist in prison.
Courbet turned to still life painting in prison, as few other subjects were available to him. He used the apples, flowers and other fruits brought to him by his sister Zoé. In a letter to his lawyer, Charles Lachaud, dated 25 October 1871, Courbet complained, ‘I am in every kind of pain: all the guards are preventing me from working at Ste.-Pélagie and from carrying out here what I had planned. They just authorized me to paint in my cell without leaving it, without any kind of light or model. Their authorization is useless for in that case I have no other motifs than God Almighty and the Holy Virgin' (P. ten-Doesschate Chu, Letters of Gustave Courbet, Chicago, 1992, p. 446).
The artist’s desire to create within this confinement resulted in small still lifes, such as Pommes, being rendered on paper and in one known instance a door panel. These works, demonstrate a purity that is immensely powerful and resonates in similar still lifes by Manet and Cézanne (fig. 1). In the present lot, three apples, the only form of life, sit within the centre of a tightly cropped composition; perhaps resonating with the artist’s own situation in his cell. The fruit takes the role of 'coloured symbols of life burgeoning in baron confines' (J. Rubin, Courbet, London, 1997, page 283). Verisimilitude is created through the strong red and green tones of the round fruit against the near monochromatic deep background. The contemporary art critic Max Buchon wrote of Courbet’s creative process, ‘One would say that he produces his works as simply as an apple tree produces apples’ (quoted in L. Nochlin, Style and Civilization: Realism, London, 1971).
The authenticity of the present painting has been confirmed by Jean-Jacques Fernier in a letter dated 16 November 2009.

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