Gustave Courbet – Faisans Et Pommes (pheasants And Apples)

WHETHER the part that Courbet played in the destruction of the Column be regarded as criminal or merely stupid, it must not be forgotten that he was the only sufferer by it. As he had been the most tactless and the noisiest of all those responsible the blame was thrown entirely on his shoulders. He was arrested on June 7, a few days after the fall of the Commune, and tried before a court-martial on August 14. His attitude was pitiful. The poor wretch had lost all heart and energy. Broken, pale, suffering from a disease which was soon to necessitate a serious operation, he listened without protest to all the witnesses for the defence, who agreed in maintaining that he was just a harmless irresponsible child. So far from disarming the public jury, his want of spirit provoked the most cowardly insults and sarcasms. The gendarmes were hard put to it to protect their prisoner against the mob, and a young woman spat on his grey beard. In spite of a courageous admission by Paschal Grousset, who took all the responsibility for the act with which Courbet was charged upon his own shoulders, in spite of the skilful defence of Lachaud, and a moderate indictment by the Government prosecutors, the painter was declared guilty and sentenced—with worse in store to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of five hundred francs.

“They have killed me,” said Courbet to a friend. “These people have killed me, I feel it, and I shall never do any thing good again! ”

However he was soon to be back at work. In Sainte-Pélagie, where he was imprisoned on September 22, 1871, his friends and relations showed him countless marks of sympathy to help him to forget the storm of hatred that was let loose upon him. One day when his sister Zoé brought him a bunch of holly covered with red berries he felt the desire to paint once more and persisted until he had been given permission to have his colours and brushes.

It was in these circumstances that he began an admirable series of still-life studies, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, pomegranates, dahlias, all of a masterly freedom and vigour.

Shortly afterwards he moved his easel to the house of Doctor Duval at Neuilly. After Nélaton had performed a successful operation, and after he received on March 2, 1872, formal notice of his liberation he remained at Neuilly seeking forgetfulness in unbroken work. To this period belong, among many other fine pictures, the ” Pommes Rouges ” of the Rouart collection, and the “Pommes et Faisans,” here reproduced, which is in the possession of Mlle Juliette Courbet.