COURBET was one of Courbet’s favourite subjects. It has often been thrown up against him by men who forget that an artist has great difficulty in finding a model as convenient or as well-studied as himself.
But, it was said, the painter who delighted in making so many of his contemporaries look uglier than they were was ” much nicer and more generous when it came to his own face.” (Edmond About, 1857.) The artist has no excuse save the masterpieces that his rather exclusive indulgence has given us. Everybody who knew him as a young man is agreed in saying that he was very beautiful.
“He was very tall and broad, he had a firm face with regular features, lightly tanned, and lit up by a pair of magnificent ox-eyes. His hair was thick and long, and his curly beard left uncovered a charming, sensitive mouth, always ready to curl up its ironical, deep corners . . and he had a rustic appearance withal that made him look like a Chaldean shepherd. Such was Courbet. His walk had the sturdy balance of the countryman, his head always bending down towards the earth as though he were following some scent, for he had more temperament than intelligence, and more sensuality than poetic feeling.” ( Jules Breton, ” La Peinture,” p. t81.).
” Courbet au Chien Nair ” is a self portrait painted in 1842, and it procured him his first official recognition. Courbet, then a young man of twenty-three, painted himself against a landscape in his native province, near the grotto of Plaisir-Fontaine, sitting with a beautiful spaniel, a present from one of his friends, which, as he says in one of his letters, was admired by every one. The portrait was admitted by the jury of the Salon of 1844, and, in spite of the refusal of another picture, it was a source of great joy to the artist, who had been working in Paris for four years, without a master, going his own way, to the great distress of his family. “I have been admitted to the Exhibition,” he wrote to them “and am highly delighted. It is not the picture I should have preferred them to take but it makes no matter. It is all I ask, for the picture they rejected was not finished. They did me the honour of hanging me well in the Exhibition and that is some compensation.” And he goes on to explain that if his picture had been larger it would certainly have been awarded a medal, ” which would have been a magnificent beginning.”
The “Courbet au Chien Noir,” which figured in the 1900 Exhibition, has recently been returned to the “Petit Palais” as a gift from Mlle Juliette Courbet.