Painted in the mid-1860's, Cascade, Chevreuil, Biche et son Faun is an excellent example of the landscape painting that occupied Courbet in 1864, a year of intense productivity spent mainly in his native Franche-Comté. The region was abundant with rural rock formations from the Jura plateau, and these monumental rocks with their caves, grottoes and waterfalls provided Courbet with an endless variety of subjects for his landscapes from this period. The juxtapositioning of the frothy white water as it cascades over the massive rock formations allowed Courbet to experiment, and master the use of a palette knife as he spread the paint to emulate the hard surface of a rock. In his own words, he once remarked: "Try a brush to do rocks like that, rocks that have been eroded by the weather and rain, which have formed long seams from top to bottom." (P. Courthion, ed., Courbet raconté, par lui-même et par ses amis, Geneva, 1948-50, vol. I, p. 200).
Courbet's landscapes, like his seascapes, are almost always devoid of any human presence. Courbet's nature stands alone whether as personified by the endless rush of a waterfall as it pours over a millennium of rock, or as a single wave as it crashes on the shore. Equal in majesty to this powerful landscape is the wise, brave stag, who proudly ascends the hill of rocks--his small family tentatively following his lead. He is a survivor, judging by the broad spread of his rack, and number of points. The source of Courbet's courageous stag is unquestionably Sir Edwin Landseer's The Monarch of the Glen painted by 1851, and engraved the following year. Landseer had been the runaway success at the Exposition Universelle of 1866, and Courbet even referred to him in a letter of 1861 about a stag that appeared in another painting: "The English ought to like the expression on his face, it recalls the feeling of Landseer's animals." (P. ten-Doesschate Chu, ed., Letters of Gustave Courbet, Chicago, 1992, p. 194 (letter 61-6) In Cascade, Chevreuil, Biche et son Faun, Courbet's majestic stag is the monarch of his world and together they personify the power of nature that Courbet saw around him.