IF Courbet was not upset by all the clamour that went on about him certain criticisms had at any rate touched him nearly. He gave more thought to them than they deserved in the composition of “Les Demoiselles de Village ” which he mentioned to Champfleury before the opening of the Salon of 1852: “I have bamboozled the judges by breaking new ground. I have painted a graceful, pretty picture. Nothing that they have said before is any good to them now. . . . Courbet himself was more than once “misled” by this fancied need for showing that he could paint “pretty pictures” as well as another. Sometimes he succeeded in disarming criticism, but, in 1852, these half-concessions only provoked a new chorus of raillery.
The landscape was considered a powerful piece of painting, but barren and attractive, “tainted with materialism.” The “girls” (Courbet’s three sisters) were thought awkward, vulgar, stiff, dressed-up, and singularly lacking in charm. “What a good thing,” some one said, “that they have hidden themselves away in such a barren spot! M. Courbet is very unlucky not to have the acquaintance of any prettier girls than these! We must be grateful to him for – not having shown us more than three!”
“I can understand,” added the “Chronique de Paris,” “a man treating human beings in this fashion, but what have the dogs done to deserve it? The dog in this picture is a horrid little mongrel . . a disgrace to his mother. . .” However it was admitted that the do was well painted. As for the cows the general opinion was (quite rightly) that they were Lilliputian and looked like cardboard toys.
“The painter deserved all this ridicule,” said Alfred Grün, ” for his Franche- Comté brutality, his audacity, his pride and his bad taste. But beneath all his violence, sincere or affected, beneath all his more or less wilful absurdity and awkwardness, it is impossible not to see and to admit his rare aptitude for seeing and rendering Nature. The valley is firmly painted, its light is free and true, and its fidelity to local atmosphere could hardly be surpassed. The cows only appear to be small because the artist has failed to make it clear that they are some distance away, and a detail so easy to correct as this does not justify the severity of the critics.”
“Les Demoiselles de Village” was bought by the Duc de Morny, and was shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1855, and at the private exhibition in 1867. In 1876 it was sequestrated with the rest of Courbet’s work and was with some difficulty restored to the Duchesse de Morny. It was subsequently acquired by M. Durand-Ruel, and has recently been sent over to America.