Gustave Courbet – Le Guitarrero (the Guitar Player)

THE following year, 1845, Courbet, who already had a great capacity for work and a remarkable facility, sent five pictures to the Salon. The jury only accepted one little picture called “Le Guitarrero,” which had been painted in a fortnight. It was formerly in the Faure collection, but passed to the Bernheim gallery, where it has recently been sold.

With his usual optimism the artist soon consoled himself for his setback; and hastened to inform his family that a banker and a merchant were making offers for the “Guitarrero.” But while he was hesitating whether to ask five hundred francs or less, the purchasers had disappeared.

It is easy to recognize Courbet’s features beneath the romantic accoutrement of his subject. The picture is very typical of the artist’s early hesitations.

Only one thing was certain for him at that time, the imperative need of keeping away from the school of the official painters. He had nothing to learn of them after a few sittings of the model in the studio of Baron Steuben and a few conversations with Auguste Hesse. He found it more profitable to copy the old masters like Rembrandt, Franz Hals, Van Dyck, Velasquez, or the more or less courageous moderns like Géricault, Delacroix, and even Schnetz or Robert Fleury, who were his guides before he had found his own way.

The rather shoddy romanticism of this picture was reproduced in much of the painter’s work during this first period. Together with a portrait of his sister, Juliette, jokingly called “La Baronne de M . . ” he sent in a “Rêve de Jeune Fille,” the hackneyed sentimentality of which it is easy to imagine. A short time before, in 1841, he had painted himself with his head in his hands and called the picture “Despair.” Among his early romantic titles are “Ruins by a lake ” (1839) ; a “Monk in a Cloister ” (184o), “Man delivered from Love by Death,” an “Odalisque,” inspired by Victor Hugo, a “Lelia ” borrowed from George Sand, and a ” Walpurgis Night” taken from Goethe’s “Faust.” Better known are the “Amants dans la Cam pagne ” (Lovers in the Country), and “Sentiments du Jeune Age ” (Feelings of Youth), two copies of which are in public collections in France; one in the Lyons museum, and the other in the Petit Palais in Paris, the gift of Mlle Juliette Courbet.