2 More

Le Château de Chillon, Lake Geneva

Le Château de Chillon, Lake Geneva
signed 'G. Courbet' (lower right)
oil on canvas
27 ¼ x 37 5⁄8 in. (69.2 x 95.7 cm.)
M. de Sesteguy (†); Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 13 April 1892, lot 8.
with Galerie Durand-Ruel and Galerie Bernheim Jeune, Paris.
with Galerie Lambert, Paris, by 5 June 1920.
with Kraushaar Galleries, New York.
Charles Jackson Booth and Jessie Louise Booth, Ottawa, and by descent to
Charles Rowley Booth and Marjorie Annette McKinnon, Ottawa, until at least 1960.
Private Collection, Ottawa.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 7 May 1998, lot 135, where purchased by the present owner.
Valemont, 'Les Grandes Ventes,' Le Figaro, Paris, 10 June 1920, p. 3.
La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, Paris, 31 August 1920, p. 122.
R. Fernier, La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet: catalogue raisonné, II, Lausanne, 1978, pp. 214-215, no. 993, illustrated, where erroneously catalogued as belonging to the National Gallery of Canada.
P. Courthion, L'opera completa di Courbet, Milan, 1985, pp. 128-129, no. 986, illustrated, where incorrectly catalogued as belonging to the National Gallery of Canada.
P. Courthion, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Courbet, Paris, 1987, pp. 128-129, no. 986, illustrated, where incorrectly catalogued as belonging to the National Gallery of Canada.
R. Diez, L'arte en plein air dei barbizonnier, 2000, p. 106, no. 233.
New York, C. W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, An Important Collection of Paintings, 1924, illustrated, as Château de Chillon en automne.
New York, C. W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, A Loan Collection of French Paintings, 20 October-7 November 1936, no. 2.
Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960, 19 January-21 February 1960, no. 131.

Brought to you by

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

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Please note that this work is exhibited in a loaner frame from Diego Salazar Antique Frames, New York, which is available for purchase.

The thirteenth-century Château de Chillon is situated on the edge of Lake Geneva a few miles away from La Tour-de-Peilz where Courbet lived in exile from 1873 until his death in 1877. By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, 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 favourite subject in illustrated travel books, topological prints and postcards. The Château de Chillon is regarded as the best example of a noble fortress of the Middle Ages. It has since become a symbol of the strength and steadfastness of Switzerland with its angles and shapes working to create a structure in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Chillon is a unique structure, in that one side is a majestic fort facing the ancient road to Italy and the other a palatial residence facing Lake Geneva. The visible portions of the castle include two dozen buildings set around three courtyards, all merged together in the medieval style. Its legendary dungeons were carved directly from the rock that supports the castle’s foundations.

The dramatic setting of the castle, on a bluff overlooking Lake Geneva, proved to be a popular theme that found a ready audience among Courbet’s buyers. He would often include picturesque details such as sailboats in the composition, while in other depictions the view would be stark, with no human presence. The present painting juxtaposes rock, water, landscape and buildings in a way that recalls many paintings of the artist’s homeland in the Franche-Comté. The castle, although man-made and dominating the composition, seems almost subsumed into the landscape, creating a sense of peaceful, albeit lonely grandeur.

The history of the castle most likely held a symbolic meaning for Courbet who, as an exile, felt imprisoned and shackled himself. 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 watercolours, 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, melancholic 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 Swiss 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, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2008, p. 422).

More from British and European Art

View All
View All