Painted after Courbet's exile to Switzerland following his release from prison for his involvement in the events of the Commune in 1871, the present lot harks back nostalgically to a series of river landscapes which began with depictions of the Loue in the artist's native Franche-Comté, and is most famously encapsulated by his representations of Le Puits Noir, a small stream in the Loue valley, a subject to which the artist would turn to again and again after first representing it in a painting exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1855.
These paintings represented an almost hermetic natural world, hemmed in on all sides by rock and tree canopies, and devoid of all animal and human presence. They discarded completely the rules which traditionally governed the landscape genre, replacing open vistas and horizon lines with closed spaces in which natural surfaces were thrust forward into the picture plane, to emphasize the materiality and density of the subject. In the present work, the branches of the tree arch almost protectively over the gorge, while the foaming water is described in thick white strokes of paint, applied with a palette knife, almost splashing out at the viewer. These types of painting were deeply personal visions of nature, stressing a sense of place and earthiness that is encapsulated in the French term "terroir". Their importance was hinted at in a letter written by the artist in 1866 to his friend Alfred Bruyas about a similar work, in which he described finishing a "superb landscape of profound solitude made in the deepest vales of my land".
We would like to thank Sarah Faunce for confirming the attribution to Courbet on the basis of a photograph (verbal communication, 9 October 2014).