Gustave Courbet – Champfleury

MORE lasting was Courbet’s friendship with Champfleury, whose portrait, painted in 1853, was bequeathed to the Louvre in 1889.

Jules Husson, known as Fleury, or Champfleury, was born at Laon in 1821. He deserted his profession as a bookseller to devote himself to letters. His realistic romances, ” Chien- Caillou,” ” Les Bourgeois de Molinchart,” are often quoted and sometimes read. His historical works on caricature and ceramics are still useful.

Courbet’s early pictures had no more ardent champion than Champfieury. But after “Les Baigneuses” he was less happy about it all. His anxiety did not appear in his articles, for he went on defending Courbet in public on every possible occasion. But in his private letters he often accuses the artist of having “gone astray,” and wasting himself in trying to flatter or astonish the gallery, instead of being the frank, solid Franche-Comtéan of his early days.

“Since his exhibition,” he wrote to Max Buchon in 1855, “he has done nothing but haunt the cafés, preaching, staying up all night. I am very sorry for his lack of good sense, for I love the man, but advice has no effect upon him.

“I am irritated by this comedy of realism,” he confessed in the following year. “With regard to Courbet I am just like a cat running away with the saucepan of realism tied to his tail by horrid little street boys.

The admirable biographer of Courbet, M. Riat, who has published all these letters, deplores this misunderstanding and at the same time wonders whether the writer was not moved by a spirit of petty jealousy. Champfleury, however, was always ready with praise whenever his friend gave him any opportunity for it. ” I am delighted to know that Courbet is working,” he wrote in 1864. “Being in the country is much better for him than the drinking-shops of Paris. The country will, I hope, make him forget all about his being the Saviour of the world through painting. He is a splendid, a magnificent, painter. If only he would be content to remain what Nature made him: an admirable painter!”

The breach was final in 1867: “One cannot work with a man and be with him eight hours a day without loving and understanding him. When I lost touch with Courbet it was because I sought isolation. I wanted to reflect, study, work, and try to improve myself. Courbet would not give up his nocturnal way of living. . At last I was forced to realize that, with all his magnificent gifts as a painter, he had stultified himself with beer. . . .” And Champfleury came to this hard conclusion: “I have begun to have doubts of his mental balance.”