Gustave Courbet – La Fileuse Endormie (the Sleeping Spinner)

“LA FILEUSE ‘ will save Courbet’s exhibit,” wrote Champfleury to Max Buchon before the opening of the Salon of 1853. The picture did not meet with the same hostility as the other two and all those who were alive to the painter’s qualities seized the opportunity to pay him their compliments, all, however, more or less reserved,

“In this picture,” wrote Delacroix in his diary, ” there is all the accustomed vigour and imitative quality of this artist. If the dress and the armchair are heavy and clumsy, the spinning wheel and the distaff are admirable. “It is a sincere, frank piece of work,” wrote H. de la Madelène, “which cannot alarm anybody and must charm many. . . The girl is not a coquette and she is rather heavily wrapped up in her wide fichu and her red-flowered dress, but, thank God, she is not a Parisienne, and for that I applaud the painter. . Other people will complain no doubt that the Spinner is no more like a Greek or a Georgian woman. Good Heavens! We have only too many of your painters of Greek women and we are very lucky to have a man who is trying to paint peasant women as God made them! The eye can rest and gaze on this picture with the same pleasure that one finds in life when one leaves the company of artificial people and lights upon a simple, genuine human being.”

Proudhon also was delighted with the artist for having painted neither a goddess, nor a Greek, nor a fashionable doll, nor a Florian shepherdess, but a really “physiological beauty, full-blooded, alive, strong and tranquil.” With many philosophical divagations he admires the “magnificent creature. . . , The thread has fallen from her hand. Almost we can hear her slow breathing instead of the whirring of the wheel. Every day she rises early in the morning; she is the last to go to bed . . . It is in her spare moments that she takes her distaff, and turns to the gentle slow work, the slight noise of which is not enough to keep her, healthy countrywoman that she is, awake. Do you understand now why Courbet made his spinner a mere peasant ? There would be no sense in her otherwise; more than that, I say she would be indecent, . . . Only the truth, discarding every impure thought, could here suggest both an idea and an ideal, without which art is reduced to arbitrariness and insignificance and disappears.”

“La Fileuse” has often been shown in public, notably at the Universal Exhibition of 1855 and the private exhibition of 1867. It was given by Bruyas to the Montpellier Museum.