Gustave Courbet – Le Ha Mac (the Hammock)

MUCH more personal is the picture called ” Le Hamad,” here reproduced. It bears the date 1844 and is now in the collection of Prince de Wagram. As it never appeared, so far as is known, in any important exhibition we cannot set it side by side with contemporary impressions as we shall do in the case of the subsequent pictures. It would have been interesting to know what sort of reception was given to the unconventional figure, rather vulgar in its charm, though drawn in a naturalistic style, that must have seemed very audacious at the time, and set in one of those bold landscapes that were quite enough to win recognition for Courbet.

To gain any idea of the ardour with which the painter was trying to find himself at this time or of the tremendous ambition and energy with which he was working we have only to turn to the letter he wrote to his family in March, 1845: “Next year,” he says, ” I must- paint a great picture which will make me known beyond all doubt, for I must have all or nothing, I can do more than such little pictures as I have been doing. . . I want to do great painting. That is not presumption on my part, for everybody who knows anything about art and has any acquaintance with me predicts it for me. The other day I did a study of a head and when I showed it to M. Hesse he told me in front of the whole class that there were very few masters in Paris capable of doing anything like it. . I admit that there was some exaggeration in what he said. But what is very certain is that I am bound to have a name in Paris before five years are out. By way of forcing attention to himself, for its tardiness in coming was a sore trial to his patience, Courbet sent eight pictures to the Salon of 1846, and, alas, seven of them were refused. The eighth (probably his own portrait now in the museum at Besançon) was very badly hung: “they have stuck it on the ceiling so that it is impossible to see it.”

In face of this setback Courbet for a moment lost his philosophy, if not his confidence. He was now in the ranks of those who-often quite justly–cry out against the severity of the jury. “Every one is complaining,” he said. “It is just a lottery.” There was a “grudge” against him, and the judges were “a pack of old imbeciles” entirely preoccupied with the idea of ” muzzling young men who might trample them in the dust.”