Gustave Courbet – La Femme De`munich (the Woman Of Munich)

IN spite of the general hostility, which still made it impossible for him to appear in the streets of Paris, Courbet tried in the spring of 1872 to exhibit some of his pictures. He had to live and his position was very precarious. His studio at Ornans had been destroyed by the Prussians. His studio in the Rue Haute-feuille and the Rue du Vieux- Colombier had been stripped of all his pictures. At the same time advantage had been taken of his imprisonment to remove two boxes of pictures stored in a cellar in the Passage du Saumon: “a loss of 150,000 francs at least.”

Courbet sent to the Salon of that year one of his recent still-life studies and also a study of the nude, known as “La Femme de Munich.”

It was painted in that town in 1869 during one of Courbet’s triumphal journeys through the Netherlands and Germany. The artists of Munich had seen him paint with his usual virtuosity copies of Franz Hals and Rembrandt, and a magnificent picture of a wood. “Give me a living model,” said Courbet to Baron Remberg,who was discus-sing his painting with Kaulbach, Piloty and other artists, ” and you shall see something else.” Kaulbach there and then called his maid, who was used to such service, and the sittings began at once. The study was finished in a few hours.

When the jury of 1872 came to “La Femme de Munich,” Meissonier said: “We need not look at it. It is not a question of art but of dignity; Courbet cannot appear in our exhibitions. He must be considered dead as far as we are concerned.”

In spite of the protests of Fromentin, Robert Fleury, and Puvis de Chavannes (who, to his honour be it said, sent in his resignation and at once had one of his own pictures rejected by his colleagues) the jury adopted Meissonier’s attitude amid the plaudits of the Press. Those artists who, like Daubigny, Corot, Daumier, Monet, Boudin, were on Courbet’s side, could not make their voices heard in the chorus of vindictiveness.

Once more the painter had to resort to a private exhibition. His pictures of fruit were much admired in the Durand-Ruel gallery, and “La Femme de Munich ” was exhibited in the Ottoz gallery, Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette, and was acclaimed by Castagnary in the following terms: “We pledge all lovers of good painting to go and see ‘La Femme Couchée’ in the shop where it has found a refuge from the susceptibilities of the painter of the Emperor’s horse. It will give them infinite pleasure and they will be convinced once again that in the hands of true artists French art can still rise to the heights of the great art of all ages.”

The picture was bought by Delacroix of Roubaix in 1870 and is now in the collection of the Prince de Wagram.