Gustave Courbet – L’hommea La Ceinture De Cuir (the Man With The Leather Girdle)

At the Salon of 1849, through a happy inspiration of Charles Blanc, then Director of Fine Arts, the Institut gave way to a jury elected by the exhibitors. This gave their revenge to the independent artists, notably to Courbet, who had seven pictures accepted out of the seven sent in. These included several landscapes, the curious portrait of the “philosopher” Trapadoux, one of the prototypes of the ” Hill” of Mürger (now in the H. Rouart collection), “L’Après-Dîner à Ornans,” which we shall consider separately, and the admirable portrait of Courbet himself, known as “L’Homme à la Ceinture de Cuir,” which was at first exhibited under the bizarre title: “Portrait de l’Auteur. Etude des Vénitiens.”

In this picture, dated 1844 (?), he has not depicted himself as he usually did with his genial, careless air, and his jovial, full-blooded vanity. We are here shown an elegant, distinguished Courbet, calm and authoritative, noble and grave as a Christ of Ribéra. But it is an authentic aspect of Courbet, to be found also in the written descriptions of his contemporaries.

“He was thin, tall, supple,” wrote Burty, ” and he had long black hair and a black silky beard. He was never seen without a little band of friends, as we are told the Italian masters used to leave their studios. His long, languishing eyes, his straight nose, his low, superbly modelled brow, his full lips with their mocking corners corresponding with the mocking light in his eyes, his smooth, rounded cheeks, made him look exactly like one of those profile portraits of the Assyrian kings set on the bodies of bulls. His drawling, melodious voice gave a pleasant charm to his sweet caressing speech.”

It was not until 1881, a few years after the artist’s death, that the State bought this splendid picture—for 2g,000 francs. It passed through the Luxembourg on its way to its final resting place in the Louvre. Although it is considerably blackened, yet it ranks as one of the finest self-portraits of artists in the Denon Gallery.