Previously unknown, this painting may be dated to circa 1863. According to Jean Jacques Fernier, it is the primary version of two similar compositions that Courbet painted in Ornans in 1872 (see R. Fernier, La Vie et l'Oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, Paris, 1978, nos. 838 and 841). Fernier's 1863 dating is based on the fact that there is a drawing of a young woman entitled La Modiste in Courbet's notebooks at the Louvre which is very similar to the young woman reading in the left of our composition (see. R. Fernier, vol. II, p. 271, no. 36). In addition, the woman in our painting is also very close to a seated model in an 1863 painting (R. Fernier, no. 349). Fernier also feels that the style of our painting, especially Courbet's handling of the light, would place it before the 1870s, and closer to 1863-1864. There is also a remarkable similarity between the fisherman in our painting and the man fishing in Courbet's monumental painting, The Source of the Loue dated 1864 (R. Fernier, no. 393).
Courbet spent most of 1864 in his native Franche-Comte. This rugged terrain with its grottoes, rock formations and cliffs provided the source for many of his most memorable landscapes. This land was also verdant and allowed Courbet to explore a palette characterized by endless shades of green, ranging from emerald to chartreuse. Our painting is an excellent example of a landscape from this prolific time in his career. Most likely set on a sunny spring or summer day, as the trees are lush with foliage, Courbet shows a fisherman casting his line in a rushing stream, its waves crested with white, most likely painted with his tell-tale palette knife. On the hillside, a young woman is shown reading. The sky is blue and filled with white clouds, and a glimpse of sunshine may be seen behind the large tree, and reflecting off the rocks on the right side of the composition.
This subject was important to Courbet as he was to return to it twice in the 1870s, but it was never again to be as beautifully conceived as in this poetic painting from the l860s.
This painting will be included in the supplement of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Courbet by Jean Jacques Fernier.