Gustave Courbet – Les Paysans De Flagey (the Peasants Of Flagey)

THE Salon of 1850-51 was one of the most important in the artist’s career. The jury, elected by the artists, accepted the eight pictures he had sent in, and among them were ” L’Homme à la Pipe,” the portraits of ” Berlioz” and the apostle ” Jean Journet,” ” Les Paysans de Flagey, revenant de la Foire, ” Les Casseurs de Pierres ” and ” L’Enterrement.” Such a collection of pictures could not be passed over. From a little group of waverers Courbet’s friends and 7 adversaries took up their stand. In his native country, whither he returned on long visits, Courbet lingered over the familiar scenes and people. Among the peasants whom he painted on their way home to Flagey from the market at Salins, we can recognize his father on horseback. The young woman with her basket on her head is Josette, a neighbour, of Arbon.

While the majority of the critics were seeking in vain for – the interest the painter could possibly have found in this banal scene which, they said, was only worthy of the daguerreotype, his admirers found in it more ideas than, we may hope, Courbet had tried to express in it. Let us take a few quotations from Proudhon to re-create the intellectual atmosphere in which, henceforth, the artist was to live. We are very far removed in this picture from the bedizened peasants of L. Robert, and perhaps even farther from the proud republicans depicted by Rembrandt and Van der Heist. . . There is no pose here, no flattery, not the smallest suspicion of an idealized figure. The whole thing is true,. plucked straight from the heart of Nature. . . . But if you step fora moment to consider the realistic handling of common things, you will soon feel that beneath them is hidden a profound quality of observation which, in my view, is the very head and front of art.” And Proudhon goes on to prove this pro-found quality of observation by tracing the physical and moral character of every person in the picture. “The man with the pig” he said, for example, “is exactly defined by his dress. He is a little peasant proprietor, who from the beginning of spring thinks only of laying up provisions against the winter. He served his term in 1793, and has seen the Rhine : it was there he got the habit of smoking…. When he returned to his native country he took up the life of the peasant once more.

However, make no mistake about it, though you see him busy with his gig, gripping his pipe between his teeth, he is a fellow of firm, settled. convictions, etc., etc.. ..” “Les Paysans” was formerly in the Durand-Ruel collection. It was sold in 1896 for 16,600 francs, and has recently appeared again in the public auction rooms.