Gustave Courbet – Chasseurs En Foret (sportsmen In A Wood)

ANOTHER fault found with Courbet, with regard to his hunting series, was particularly unfortunate. About accused him of not knowing how to hold a horn, and Maxime du Camp suspected him of not knowing that hunting in the snow had been prohibited in 1844. “It is no great matter,” he adde , ” but I understood that the realists only painted what they saw.”

In these pictures Courbet painted not only what he saw, but what he lived. He was a great hunter, and even, as he says in one of his letters, ” an incorrigible poacher. In the year 1853 he came into conflict with the police, after having walked over the whole countryside, ” over hills and valleys, up to his thighs in snow,” after hares and wolves.

In 1859, at Frankfort, he distinguished himself by his prowess, of which he was no less proud than of his fame as a painter. On Saint-Sylvestre’s day he had a “superb adventure,” which he recounted to his sister Juliette as follows: “In the mountains of Germany I killed an enormous stag, a stag of twelve points. . . It is the largest that has been killed in Germany for twenty-five years. He weighed, with an empty stomach, 274 pounds; in summer, alive, he would have weighed 400 pounds. The whole of Germany is jealous of my adventure. The Grand Duke of Darmstadt said he would have given a thousand florins for it not to have happened. . . .” The Society of Sportsmen had to intervene to restore the_ head of the beast to him, for it had been taken from him. “It is a splendid story; the whole town has been agog with it for a month. The newspapers took it up.

On top of it all, a sportsman gave a dinner at which 700 glasses of Bavarian beer were drunk.”

However, Castagnary was sometimes right in saying that Courbet’s landscapes seemed to have been seen from the windows of a tavern: “His scenes always give one the idea of a jolly good meal; one thinks of fried fish whisking down his streams and all around, along his thickets, there hovers the scent of stewed rabbit.” It is exaggerated, perhaps, but failing stewed rabbit, one can always guess that there are hares hiding in Courbet’s woods. Even when he takes us far from “gardens and woods,” his landscapes are full of strong vegetable smells, and not conducive to peaceful dreams, and one fancies that at any moment the crack of a gun may ring out through his forests.