Gustave Courbet – La Rencontre (the Meeting)

IN 1854 Courbet paid a long visit to Bruyas’s house at Montpellier. He had just come back from Frankfort, still bewildered by the discussion he had roused there, “At the Casino,” he wrote to a friend, “they had to put up a notice to this effect: ‘Any mention of M. Courbet’s pictures is prohibited in this club. One evening at a banker’s house the guests found a ticket under their serviettes on which was written : `This evening there will be no mention of M. Courbet.’ ”

On his arrival at Montpellier, Courbet, with his knapsack on his back, in his shirt sleeves, wearing blue cloth trousers, left the old yellow diligence and walked along the dusty road, sweltering under the brilliant sun. Bruyas, who had come to meet him, took off his hat to him, while his faithful servant, Calas, bowed respectfully and his dog, Breton, stayed at a distance. That is the meeting which Courbet painted soon afterwards at the painter’s request, the picture which became so famous at the Universal Exhibition of 1855 under the nickname of “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet ” or “La Fortune saluant le Génie.”

All that the public saw in it was the strangeness of the idea of blowing out such a simple incident to the pro-portions of a huge picture. The paragraphists of the newspapers and the December reviews found it an inexhaustible source of fun. People never met in the street without saying: “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet.” Quatrains and songs were passed from mouth to mouth and Banville in one of his “Odes funambulesques” led his readers through a desolate region, saying:

My friend, if I’m sad and so ugly to see It’s because M. Courbet has just passed through me.

while the chorus of grass and willows took up the refrain:

“Good day, Monsieur Courbet! How do you do ? ”

When the chorus of jokes had died down, the connoisseurs admired the boldness of the three portraits, the three figures set against the sky, and the intensity of the light and the truth of the setting. “Courbet,” said Théophile Silvestre, ” who has declared himself incapable of painting a landscape with which he was not familiar, has painted, and painted admirably, the landscape of this meeting, a landscape full of the difficulties of a country unknown to him, especially for him, accustomed as he is to the freshness of Franche-Comté and the changing cloudy skies of the north. . The vegetation dried by the wind, dusty with the traffic, vividly shown up in detail by the implacable brilliance of the blue, seemed to him the very negation of harmony. . Could anything be more difficult than to render the earth, almost as brilliant as the sky and the road-from which the sunlight is thrown back while the shadows seem to be stamped into it? “