THIS study of Courbet’s head by Courbet for picture by Courbet is one of his best pieces of work; and it is incontestably stronger than ‘L’Homme a la another fine Courbet. This fine profile was painted at Montpellier, at M. Bruyas’s, during the happiest time of the painter’s life, when he had still some self-control, though he was even then inclined to fling himself into any new absur ity that cropped up.
” It really is a fine profile, a genuine Courbet! The real, the only, the unique Courbet of those days! Still simple, still rejoicing in everything, above all in being Courbet; sometimes witty without the least spark of culture, almost charming, even in his egoistic rodomontades. Ah! What a fine fellow he was in his natural boorishness and his heavy-handed malice; still temperate, not in speech, but in appetite, and comparatively respectable, though already a haunter of cafés, a fly-by-night, too noisy and full of laughter, roaring with laughter, laughing at nothing, at everything, shouting with laughter, so that you could sometimes hear him from the gate to the Castle of Peyrou, and from one end to the other of the Esplanade.
“He had a most attractive face, in spite of his low fore-head, and his conical head, that looked as though it had been moulded in Ingres’s skull-cap, or the broad-brimmed hat of Ulysses. Yes: this picture of Courbet as he was then, so finely and firmly drawn, is worthy of Velasquez, though it is painted with a violent egoism, quite startling in some of its details… Perhaps Courbet stripped his neck in preparation for the Fair Unknown who should be yearning for him, crazy about his work, the woman he had sought in Paris, though she never existed, save in his imagination and the jest of one of his friends who was pulling his leg.
“But then Courbet had so many reasons for loving himself, infinitely more than he knew himself. His fame, first of all; his ideas; his mirror; a white skin, of a beautiful soft texture and a swarthy tinge, as yet uncoarsened; very fine features, a straight nose, velvety eyes, a small ear and silky hair, black as a crow’s wing. . .. In a word, this beautiful, memorable profile is Courbet, the ineffable Courbet… With a few technical reservations, especially as regards intelligence and taste, this picture maybe said to be the very top of the presumptuous talent which has been so justly belauded in spite of its distressing weaknesses.”
Théophile Silvestre’s malicious commentary adds so much vitality to the splendid portrait in the Bruyas collection that we may be pardoned for having quoted it in full.