IT seems incredible now that the unhappy Courbet’s expiation should not have been thought complete by this time. However his enemies were preparing a new disaster for him. In May, 1873, under the Presidency of MacMahon and the Ministry of the Prince de Broglie, the Chamber voted in favour of the reconstruction of the Vendôme Column, and accepted an amendment introduced by the Bonapartists to do the work at Courbet’s expense. The painter’s property at Ornans and in Paris, his valuables deposited in various banks, his pictures entrusted to M. Durand-Ruel and other friends were impounded by the State. The railway companies were ordered to carry nothing in Courbet’s name. The sum that he was called on to pay was so enormous that the artist had no alternative before him save imprisonment for debt. There was no other course open to him save flight to some more hospitable country.
On July 23 he reached Neuchâtel. After having wandered aimlessly for some days he found a final retreat just outside Vevey in the town of La Tour du Peilz.
His cordiality quickly overcame the mistrust of the inhabitants and they soon treated him with the most sympathetic hospitality. He lodged first with the minister, then at the Café du Centre and finally took a little house, an old fishermen’s inn, which still bore its symbolic sign: “Bon Port,” by the shores of the lake of Geneva.
There he followed the painful law-suits which involved his ruin. It was in vain that evidence was called to show that, as he had been only an accessory to the destruction of the Column, it was monstrous to visit the whole vengeful consequences on him, the Civil Court of the Seine declared him civilly responsible, on June 26, 1874, and confirmed the distress upon his goods that had already been carried out. After interminable investigations by the Minister of Public Works, the First Chamber of the Civil Tribunal on May 24, 1877, fixed the State’s claim at the fabulous sum of 323,091 francs, 68 centimes, payable in yearly sums of 10,000 francs. In spite of his agony of mind and indignation Courbet had gone on painting. He flung all his remaining energy and love for his craft into a last series of landscapes. His experiments with light and atmosphere begun during his last stay at Ornans are continued in these pictures of which “Les Grands Châtaigniers du Parc des Crêtes ” is one of the most luminous and beautiful. It is in Mlle Juliette Courbet’s collection.