COURBET had been an enthusiastic spectator of stag-fights in the parks at Hamburg and Wiesbaden. But it was at Frankfort, after his great shooting adventure, that he began his great picture. The artist had had the head of his victim stuffed and hung with a similar trophy in a studio in the Museum, which was placed at his disposal by the Director, Professor Jacob Becker. On the other side of the Maine, near an inn supplied with excellent ham and a very creditable white wine, was a little wood which gave him his background.
The picture was finished in less than a week. Courbet replied bluntly to Professor Becker, who timidly ex-pressed his regret that the leaves were not drawn in sufficient detail: “Herr Becker, you are certainly a good professor of anatomy, but you will never be any-thing but a dunce in painting!” And as there were many capable interpreters in Frankfort, the remark cut short the relation of the two artists. Courbet returned to Ornans. There he altered his landscape, having found a more suitable scene in the Jura.
” Le Combat de Cerfs,” also known as ” Le Rut du Printemps,” was shown in the Salon of 1861. It was another success, to which Olivier Merson has borne notable witness. ” It is,” he said, ” the best picture yet exhibited by M. Courbet. Every detail is closely studied, and painted roundly and satisfyingly. The earth is solid; the leaves, the grass, the brambles, are perfectly painted; one can feel the leaves trembling and rustling. The tone of the leaves, the texture of the bark, rough or smooth, the accentuation of the silhouettes are varied with consummate skill and knowledge. The back-ground has an almost solemn depth; the foreground is virile and powerful; even in those parts of the picture which seem most impetuously done, there is revealed the’ calculation of an artist who is master of his brush and of his palette, and all these qualities are beautifully united in the vigour and harmony of the colour.
M. Courbet has sounded an admirable note. Will he be able to keep it up ? ”
The State offered to buy “Le Combat de Cerfs,” but the negotiations fell through. The picture was shown at the Antwerp Exhibition in 1861, at the private exhibition in 1867, and at the great sale of 1881 it was finally bought for 41,900 francs. It should be seen in the Louvre on a fine sunny morning. The light then gives life to the usually opaque background, and revives the former splendour of the underwoods.