L'Hallali (also called La Curée) is a reduction of Gustave Courbet's first great hunting scene, La Curée, or The Quarry, (fig. 1) exhibited to wide acclaim at the Salon of 1857. L'Hallali, which corresponds to La Curée in its enlarged, post-Salon format, was painted by Courbet sometime around 1858-62, perhaps as a guide to altering the proportions of the Salon painting; or perhaps as a straightforward repetition commissioned by (or presented to) a new-found friend and patron, Jean-Paul Mazaroz, a fellow countryman from the Jura and the first owner of L'Hallali.
La Curée, which shows Courbet himself as a huntsman leaning pensively against a tree beside a dead chevreuil as two hunting dogs eye each other warily and another hunter sounds the cry (the hallali) announcing the successful kill, is a painting as complex as it is powerful. Courbet has placed himself at the center of the kind of hunting trophy scene usually associated with royal or aristocratic portraiture (for centuries hunting had been a highly guarded prerogatvie of the wealthiest landed classes, with severe penalties for interlopers). Courbet underlines his pride in his role in such a scene by presenting himself in simple country garb more suited to the poacher than the gentleman huntsman (a distinction emphasized by the presence of the impeccably constumed piquer behind him).
La Curée was widely praised at the time of the Salon and won over for Courbet many of the critics who had been less than enchanted by the artist's more polemical Salon entries of prior years. The beautiful handling of the segment featuring the dead deer was applauded by virtually every commentator, and most were also admiring of the dampness and flickering light that seemed to exude from the landscape. After the Salon, the painting was subsequently shown in Brussels, Frankfurt, Besanon, and Paris once again before being exhibited in Boston and sold to Boston's Allston Club in 1866. Indubitably, making it the first Courbet to enter an American Collection. Courbet was proud of the painting. But precisely who owned La Curée, at what moment, and what size the painting was, is not always clearly established. The questions that confuse La Curée's early history are of consequence for the dating of Courbet's smaller version of the painting, L'Hallali, as well, for L'Hallali's accuracy in reproducing the coloring and light effects of the much larger Salon painting suggest that Courbet could only have painted L'Hallali with La Curée right at hand.
When La Curée was exhibited in the Salon of 1857, it was nearly 20 inches smaller than its present 7-foot height, a nearly square composition as recorded in a contemporary print (fig. 2). Sometime thereafter Courbet enlarged the Salon painting to give the composition a more open woodland space. Whether Courbet made those alterations immediately following the close of the Salon in response to critics who considered the original painting too crowded; whether he made them later in 1858-59 during an extended stay in Frankfurt when he was working on a grand campaign of related hunting scenes; or whether he made them later still, around 1862, at the behest of a new purchaser, M. Luquet of the Gallery Cadart et Luquet who had acquired the painting from its original buyer (a Van Isaacher of Antwerp) --all is a matter of conjecture around conflicting evidence. Two historians, Bruce MacDonald and Hélène Toussaint, have considered the issue at some length in the literature cited above and have reached slightly different conclusions, MacDonald favoring a very early date for the adjustment, Toussaint preferring the 1862 Luquet purchase date as the probable moment that Courbet enlarged the painting that went on to Boston. In any event, the Salon painting's proportions had changed dramatically when it was reproduced in a March 1864 wood engraving.
MacDonald was the first to suggest that L'Hallali, which he knew only from an 1892 reproduction, was likely to have been created by Courbet specifically as 'a study...for the effects which could be produced by [an] extension.' Since La Curée in its Salon incarnation was already a complicatedly pieced painting, composed of four smaller canvas segments sewn together, any further additions would require significant adjustment to the existing paint surface in order to bring the whole into a convincing color balance. Although Courbet seldom produced preliminary sketches for even his largest canvases, it is quite possible that in this instance he did want to understand fully how the enlarged painting might look before he ordered the seaming of another canvas across the top, and so he painted L'Hallali for that purpose.
It is equally possible, however, that Courbet painted L'Hallali sometime after the Salon painting had been extended, perhaps hoping to gain an additional sale from the attention the larger picture was continuing to attract in the series of exhibitions during the late 1850s and early 1860s. Such a speculative motive is probably the explanation for the beautiful painting of Le Chevreuil Mort (Musée Mesdag, fig. 3) which repeats the overall landscape of The Quarry but includes only the dead deer to the left. This canvas is dated 1858 (not 1855, as sometimes noted) and was painted during Courbet's extended stay in Frankfurt during and following the exhibition of La Curée in that city. Courbet was deeply involved in a series of hunting pictures during the Frankfurt period, including both the Repas de Chasse (Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, fig. 4) and After the Hunt (Metropolitan Museum, New York). Indeed, the similarities in the surface qualities of the Metropolitan painting, Le Chevreuil Mort and L'Hallali suggest the most plausible date for the present painting. Although 'Hallali is extremely close in color and overall tone to the much larger Salon painting of 1857, it is painted thinly and quickly with brushes rather than the combination of brushes and palette knife used in La Curée. The resulting softer, silkier surface of L'Hallali has close parallels throughout the fine, often slick surfaces of both Le Chevreuil Mort and After the Hunt --despite the great discrepancies in size among the three paintings. It should certainly be considered that Courbet may have painted L'Hallali in Frankfurt, during 1858-59, before The Cáree was turned over to its Belgian purchaser, M. van Isaacher.
L'Hallali belonged to Jean-Paul Mazaroz, a Parisian furniture-maker and decorator originally from Lons-le-Saulnier in Courbet's own Jura region. Courbet met Mazaroz for the first time in 1860, at the Besanon exhibition which included La Curée, where they were introduced by the dealer Luquet. Mazaroz immediately tried to arrange the donation of Courbet's great Burial at Ornans (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) to the Saulnier Museum. He was unsuccessful in that endeavor, but over the next decade Mazaroz purchased a large number of paintings from Courbet, although it is not clear how or when he acquired L'Hallali.
We are grateful to Alexandra R. Murphy for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.
(fig. 3) Gustave Courbet, Le Chevreuil Pendu, 1855
Mesday Museum, The Hague
(fig. 1) Gustave Courbet, La Curée, 1857
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(fig. 4) Gustave Courbet, Le Repas de Chasse, 1858
(fig. 2) Gustave Courbet, La Curée engraving