Gustave Courbet – Environs D’ornans (near Or Nans)

We have already had glimpses of Courbet’s native country in some of his pictures. But the scenery round Ornans supplied the painter with material for several hundred studies and pictures from beginning to end of his artistic career.

In Franchè-Comté, where he never failed to go and stay between his periods of residence in Paris, or between excursions abroad, he loved to set up his easel before the wild valleys of, the Loue or the streams of the Puits- Nair or Plaisir-Fontaine. Even in his school days, under the direction of Father Beau, his old drawing-master, he used to practise sketching the grottos, cascades, barren and wooded gorges, imposing groups of rocks, And it may be said that landscapes inspired by these familiar places appeared in his work throughout his career. Among the best known are the “Bords de la Loue,” three pictures exhibited in 1849,1852 and 1857 respectively, “Le Ruisseau du Puits-Noir” (1855), and ” Le Ruisseau Couvert ” (1865), now in the Louvre.

It was in 185o that he painted—or rather, to use his own expression, “pargetted “—one of the most powerful of his landscapes, the cliff here reproduced, which was formerly in the Vollard Collection.

It is something similar to another picture of the same period, the “Roche de dix Heures,” A propos of which, Gautier, who was hardly sympathetically inclined to the artist, begged him to cultivate the ” great landscape-painter ” that was in him. ” La Roche de dix Heures,” he added in 1855, “is worth studying. An enormous mass of sandstone, silvery in colour, flings a sharply defined black shadow across a vivid green field. Above the rock, through the trees, gleams a little patch of blue sky; there is in the picture a beautiful note of truth and a rare strength of colour.”

It must be confessed that these numerous paintings of the scenery round Ornans are of very unequal merit. Beside a very few pictures of the first class we find countless repetitions of the same subject made heavy and opaque by the abuse of the palette knife. Collectors have always been a little chary of these pictures, which are for the most part only exercises, which the artist, even in his most distressful period, would never have sold, and which contain nothing of Courbet but the name.