Gustave Courbet – La Sieste (the Siesta)

THE exhibition of 1867 occasioned an important and interesting article on Courbet’s career from the pen of Castagnary: “By what strange fatality comes it that the art which has gone back to the traditions of our primitive school of painting and enriched them with the craftsmanship perfected by three centuries of artists has during these last fifteen years incurred universal execration, while in the hands of a bold and adventurous young man, marvellously endowed with natural gifts, it has been expressed with such power, truth, and freshness? “The reason is this… Courbet’s painting has suffered from the reaction of 1850, it has succumbed to the same forces as the Republic of February.

“What was the meaning of his audacity? Whence came these peasants, these stone-breakers, these hungry, ragged folk who for the first time were seen taking their places among the mythological divinities of the Academy and the swaggering noblemen of the romantics ? Were they not the sinister advance guard of the hordes of Jacques Bonhommes whom public anxiety… saw… swelling to the assault of the elections of 1852…

Never has a painter had to submit to so much outrage and affront. I said just now that to show his entire output Courbet would have to take a room as long as the Luxembourg gallery; he could paper the whole of the Louvre with the insults drawn down upon him by his work.

“But now, after ten years, the revolution is accomplished. False susceptibilities, false delicacy, false rancour are no more. . . . Every man who is for political liberty, philosophical observation, and simplicity in literature is on Courbet’s side in art.”

His triumph, however, was not so complete as Castagnary made out. The sarcasm and indignation originally provoked by his work had disappeared but only to give way to indifference. Paul Mantz says that he was often quite alone in the cathedral by the Alma Bridge and that the treasurer had a melancholy look.

The more recent pictures created no sensation. We have already mentioned the indifferent reception accorded to “L’Hallali du Cerf,” now in the Besançon museum, Another picture, never before shown, which appeared later on in the Salon of 1869 pleased nobody but Charles Blanc; this was “La Sieste pendant la Saison des Foins,” an austere, grave piece of work, admirably conceived, but weak in execution, heavy in parts and inadequate in others. It is now in the Petit-Palais, in the gallery enriched by the gifts of Mlle Juliette Courbet.