Gustave Courbet – L’apres-diner A Ornans (after Dinner At Ornans)

HIS picture was exhibited in the Salon of 1849, and is the first in point of time of the great works of Courbet. It was also the first really to attract the attention of the public. ” Yesterday,” wrote Champfleury, ” nobody knew his name. To-day it is in every mouth. It is long since there has been such an immediate success. Last year I was the only man to mention his name and his quality.

Therefore I may be permitted to scourge the indolence of those critics who only concern themselves with men of established reputations, and neglect the young men of strength and courage who are destined to take their places, and perhaps to make better use of them. . .” There were still very many of the critics who did not share Champfleury’s enthusiasm. Among other serious defects in the eyes of its contemporaries, the picture was found lacking in subject, as the word was at that time interpreted. “It is a five-foot canvas representing a genre scene,” said F. de Lagenevais in the ” Revue des Deux Mondes.” M. Ingres regretted that he could discover neither drawing nor composition in a picture of such rare talent. Delacroix was hardly less reserved in his admiration. Gautier, who was usually so indulgent towards anything that showed a new spirit, did his utmost to praise Courbet, but he did not understand poetry except it were set in noble form and rare colour.

Courbet’s programme was a very different matter. Round the table at Ornans he grouped certain of his intimates. His father is sitting sleeping; Adolphe Marlet is lighting his pipe with a glowing coal; the bulldog is sleeping under his chair, and the artist himself is listening dreamily to Promayet, the musician, playing his violin in the semi-darkness.

In their inability to feel that everyday life contains mightier and saner poetry than fabulous and historical scenes, Courbet’s contemporaries no doubt drove him to emphasize his note in order to gain a better understanding. They are partly responsible for the deliberate triviality which he at times was apt to blazon forth in his effort to rejuvenate art, and give it, as Z. Astruc said, a natural and sweet simplicity. Courbet was given a second-class medal for ” L’Après-Diner.” It was bought for 1,500 francs by the State and sent to the Lille Museum. The dark backgrounds, so much affected by Courbet at his time, have been blackened by time.