THE refusal of “L’Enterrement” and “L’Atelier” roused in Courbet a desire that he had long cherished, for the organization of a private exhibition of his pictures. Bruyas, to whom he looked for financial support, had till then only been mildly enthusiastic about the project. But that was a mere trifle to Courbet. With unshakeable serenity and optimism he told Bruyas that he had been unable any longer to resist the urgent entreaties of his friends, and that the private exhibition was to be held at 7 Avenue Montaigne. It will cost me between ten and twelve thousand francs. I have taken the rooms for six months at a rent of two thousand francs. Alterations will cost between six and eight thousand. The odd thing is that the gallery is in the sane building as their exhibition. I have already the six thousand francs you gave me. If you will show your gratitude for what you owe me, and let me have ‘Les Baigneuses,’ I shall be safe; I shall make at least 100,000 francs.”
After several weeks of peevish excitement and enthusiasm and “ecstasies ” over his own monument, Courbet opened the doors on June 28, 1855. Above the entrance was the following inscription: “Realism.” G. Courbet. Exhibition of 40 Pictures. Entrance Fee: I franc.
The plan of holding a private exhibition outside the Salons was in those fortunate times an amazing novelty. Gautier was astonished at seeing Realism in a shed, and Maxime du Camp was shocked at seeing the artist’s advertisements on the back page of the newspapers between disinfectants and sarsaparilla. Paul Mantz, with his usual sagacity, touched the heart of the matter: the artist was fully within his rights in exhibiting his work at his own risk and peril, since the jury had refused a picture that was ” sincerely and honestly painted, and full of fine qualities.”
On the subject of this important picture Delacroix, who was far from sympathizing with Courbet, is even more explicit. He did not care for the composition of the picture, and he objects to the landscape on which the painter is engaged almost as vigorously as to the figures in the studio. But he cannot find praise enough for the model, one of the finest nudes that Courbet ever painted. “One of the most singular pictures of our time was re-fused,” he says in his diary, ” but the artist is not the kind of man to be discouraged by such a trifle.”