AFTER the episode of “La Femme au Perroquet ” Courbet was on such bad terms with the Government that he could not but be out of humour with the official Salon, He did not altogether refrain from exhibiting but he decided to keep the best of his work for a private exhibition. This time he determined to do things on an even grander scale than in 1855.
For a moment the artist seems to have had a presentiment of the disillusion and misfortune that were to dog the end of his career. ” I am growing old, very old,” he wrote to Bruyas on April 27, 1867,”we are ageing in spite of our spiritual activity. I am going to court ruin once again. Failure will be no light thing to a man of my age.” But his sturdy self-confidence soon returned to him.
“I have spent 50,000 francs,” he wrote on May 28. “My scheme is a triumph. I have built a cathedral on the finest site in Europe, by the Alma Bridge, just by the Seine, in the heart of Paris and the whole world is staggered. I have triumphed over the moderns and over the ancients; the issue is still in the balance. . . . I have put to shame the whole art world! ”
The catalogue included about one hundred and twenty pictures, among which, with five or six exceptions, were all his most important works. “Even so,” he said in a note, “it is but a small portion of my whole work, which would comprise one thousand pictures.”
Among the latest in point of date we may mention the beautiful portrait of a woman whose splendid red hair reminds us of the Woman with the Parrot; it was called, “JO, Femme d’ Irlande ” in 1867 and has since been known as “La Belle Irlandaise ” or “La Belle Hollandaise.” She was a friend of Whistler’s, whom Courbet met in 1864 at Trouville. “I have been visited by more than two thousand ladies in my studio,” wrote Courbet to his father. “They all want their portraits painted by me after seeing my pictures of Princess Karoly and Mlle Aubé. . Besides those two I have painted two portraits of men and some seascapes, altogether thirty-five canvases, to everybody’s amazement. . I have bathed eighty times. For the last six days (this was in November) I have bathed with Whistler, the painter, who is here with me; he is an English pupil of mine.”
“La Belle Irlandaise ” is dated 1866. It was shown at the Besançon Exhibition of x868, and was then sold to M. Emile Durier. Estignard mentions it in 1897 as being in Mlle Trouillebert’s collection. A replica of the picture (here reproduced) is now in New York.