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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED JAPANESE COLLECTION

Deux vaches a la robe marron

Deux vaches a la robe marron
signed 'G Courbet.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 36 1/4 in. (73.2 x 92.4 cm.)
M. Hoschedé sale; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 30 April 1875, lot 28, as Le Dormoir au bord de la mer.
Rindoko Museum, Tochigi, Japan.
Private Collection, Japan, 2020.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Alastair Plumb
Alastair Plumb Specialist, Head of Sale, European Art

Lot Essay

Although perhaps best-known and most notorious for his enormous, public figural paintings, Gustave Courbet was throughout his long career first and foremost a landscape painter. In the preface to the catalogue for the posthumous Courbet exhibition held at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1882, Jules Castagnary stated, ‘[Courbet] discovered virgin territory where no one had yet to set foot, aspects and forms of landscape of which one could say were unknown before him. He climbed up to the free heights where the lungs expanded; he plunged into mysterious dens, he was curious about unnamed places, unknown retreats’.
Almost three-quarters of the artist’s oeuvre are landscapes. Courbet’s intimate knowledge of the landscape in and around his native Ornans in the Franche-Comté came from his meanderings through the forest and alongside streams and from his hunting expeditions in the area. He comprehended the need to understand the countryside and wrote ‘To paint a landscape you have to know it. I know my country. I paint it!’ Courbet’s defining autobiographical masterpiece, The Studio of the Painter (1855, Musée d'Orsay) shows Courbet in the process of painting a landscape.
The central motif of Deux vaches a la robe marron is pair of cattle resting under a tree. As James H. Rubin observes, 'unlike the popular Barbizon artists, Millet, Jacque and Troyon, whose work Courbet admired, Courbet rarely painted cattle or other farm animals, with the notable exception of The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair.' (J.H. Rubin, Courbet, London, 1997, pp. 252-3.).
Courbet shows the relationship of cows and cattle alongside human figures in countryside landscapes. This is seen in his monumental canvases: Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair (1850, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie de Besançon), his more restful composition The Young Ladies of the Village (1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and his 1869 Salon submission, The Siesta During the Haying Season (Mountain in the Doubs) (1868, Petit Palais).
However, on occasion, Courbet chose to focus the viewer’s attention solely on the cows themselves, as is seen in Le veau blanc (1873, Private collection), and the present lot. In Deux vaches a la robe marron the cows resting under the tree take precedence in the composition. Human activity is present, but it is signified only in the flecks of the red sails on the boats on the water beyond. Courbet has taken a Dutch-inspired rural scene, which had found popularity through the paintings of Rosa Bonheur and Troyon, and he has applied an intense realism to his subject. Here, he addresses the cows within their wider environment.
Courbet was at the same time an Old Master and a key figure in Modernism. He was deeply rooted in artistic tradition and technique, and was particularly drawn to the work of Delacroix, Géricault, Prud’hon and the Dutch masters, while at the same time being violently opposed to tradition. Courbet’s art defies definition, but above all things it must be considered as the very beginning of 'modern' painting. Picasso, Cézanne and Monet all saw Courbet’s work in exhibitions in 1855, 1867 and 1882, and the impact of his landscapes on avant-garde painting practices extend well into the 20th century. Maier-Graefe regarded Courbet as the father of modern painting not only in France but also across Europe as well.
Courbet’s legacy is evidenced in the many instances of continuity between himself and the later artists who responded to his artistic achievement. Much has been written about Courbet’s influence on artists from the Impressionists, such as Manet, Monet and Cézanne, to the Abstract Expressionists like Nolde, Pollock and de Kooning. Both Cézanne and de Kooning identified Courbet as a source of inspiration, but aside from the obvious textural references, Courbet’s importance to and influence upon subsequent generations can be understood in their visual vocabulary. Indeed, it is in the work of Gerhard Richter, working in the 21st century, that we can see Courbet’s technical legacy continued. Richter uses the same techniques developed by Courbet, including scraping the surface of the painting repeatedly, using the wrong end of the brush to achieve texture and sometimes peeling off the top layer of paint to expose the layer underneath.
The present work is accompanied by a certificate from the Institut Gustave Courbet dated 16 October 2021, and will be included in their forthcoming Gustave Courbet catalogue raisonné.

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