Gustave Courbet – L’homme a la Pipe (the Man With A Pipe)

THE following year, 1847, brought a fresh disaster. Three pictures were sent to the Salon and rejected. The artist was dumbfounded. It was no good despising the judges, for their decision was big with consequences, “I must exhibit to make myself known and unfortunately that is the only exhibition. In past years when I had not thoroughly mastered my own style and was still painting to a certain extent in theirs they accepted my work; but now that I am myself there is no hope for me.”

Courbet was not alone in such protestation It was after the Salon that Delacroix, Decamps, Dupré, Rousseau, Daumier, etc., met at Barye’s house and tried to found an independent Salon.

But the revolution of 1848 led to a reconstitution of the jury on a new basis and the three pictures of Courbet’s that had been refused were allowed to appear in subsequent exhibitions. The painter’s reputation did not suffer by this long term of probation. Even in 1848 he had attracted the notice of Champfleury and Prosper Haussard and from that time on he was encouraged by a little group of admirers who regarded him as a ” great painter,”

Among the rejected pictures of 1847 was a little masterpiece called “L’Homme à la Pipe,” which was shown in the Salon of 1850-51. But in that exhibition Courbet had other pictures of a much greater importance. Criticism was far too busy with “L’Enterrement” to pay much attention to “L’Homme à la Pipe.” However it served the judges who set out to combat Courbet’s taste and theories as an opportunity for doing justice to- his ” masterly technique.”

“The portrait,” said Louis Peisse, “is a masterly piece of painting.” “It is handled,” added Delécluze, “with rare talent and a remarkable suavity and breadth of brushwork.” And Vignon said: “It is a very jewel of drawing, subtlety and technique….”

“L’Homme à la Pipe,” it appears, was- almost bought from the exhibition by the Prince President. But the negotiations fell through. Courbet wrote to Bruyas, who bought the picture in May, 1854: “I am delighted that you should have my portrait. It has escaped the barbarians. It is a miracle, for, at a very difficult time, I was bold enough to refuse to sell it to Napoleon for two thousand francs, and later to the Russian general, Gortschakoff.. ”

Bruyas, of whom we shall have frequent occasion to speak, lent “L’Homme à la Pipe to several private exhibitions of Courtiers work, and he left it with his collection to the Montpellier Museum.