Gustave Courbet – L’enterrement (the Funeral)

COURBET’S good nature, his early successes, and perhaps also his boasting, had made him immensely popular at Ornans. The whole village may be said to have collaborated in his great picture, “L’ Enterrement,” which he began at the end of 1849. If the whole thing bears the stamp of truth it is to a certain extent because it never depended on the factitious aid of studio models in fantastic clothes. Thanks to Courbet’s letters, and information gathered by G. Riat, we are able to see all Ornans filing in front of the painter’s easel. The grave is dug beneath the Founèche, with the Mont and the Château in the background. From left to right, carrying the coffin, are Alphonse Bon, Promayet, the violinist, Etienne Nodier, and old Crevot; they are wearing the large felt hats lent by Alphonse Cuenot; the hatter, for the ceremony. M. Bonnet, the curé, followed by Colart, the vine-grower, carrying the cross, and Cauchi, the sacristan, all consented to give a few sittings in their sacerdotal robes, while they discussed morals and philosophy with the artist. Behind old Cassard, the grave-digger, who is kneeling on one knee, are two red-nosed beadles, Muselier, the vine-grower, and Pierre Clément, the shoe-maker, who, by reason of their red robes and cocked hats, have often been taken for caricatures of magistrates.

Behind them the artist had to make room for the choristers. “I was told,” wrote Courbet, ” that they were very hurt, as they were the only people in the church who had been left out of the picture. They complained bitterly, saying that they had never done me any harm, and had not deserved such an affront.”

In the crowd, standing up in the foreground, are Bertin, his face hidden behind his handkerchief, M. Proudhon, the deputy, cousin of the philosopher, the mayor, Prosper Teste, who “weighed four hundred kilos,” and, escorted by a beautiful black and white brach, ” two old men of the 93 revolution in the costume of the period.”

In the background are the faces Of Courbet’s father and some of his friends, all of whose names are known. On the other side, separated from the men, as was the custom, come the women in mourning garb. The painter’s three sisters form a beautiful group— Juliette and Zélie standing one on each side of Zoé, who is weeping into her handkerchief.

Alas! The critics of the Salon, of whose opinions we have here set out a number of extracts, quite unexpectedly dashed the pride of all these obliging sitters. According to Champfleury there was a tremendous uproar, and, in spite of all the efforts of the artist and his sisters, the inhabitants of Ornans for a long time bore a grudge against Courbet for having exposed them on canvas to the mockery of the Parisians.