In the Philadelphia Museum of Art are five paintings by Gustave Courbet; of all of these I found Reclining Nude (1868

, Oil on canvas, The Louis & Stern Collection, 63-81-20) the most interesting. the beach beneath a billowing canopy. background. threatening. source. over the horizon. It depicts a nude woman lying on A dark, but tranquil sea is in the

The sky is dark as if the final rays of the sun were disappearing There are a few clouds in the sky, they are dark but not The picture is very dark in general and there is no obvious light

The edges of the painting are so dark it is impossible to tell what

the nude reclines against. A very dim light falls on the woman, who lies on her right side. The upper

half of her torso is twisted to her left and her hips and legs face the viewer. Her right leg is bent slightly so her calf is beneath her straightened left leg. head. The woman is not as thin as classical nudes, her hips are somewhat broad Her arms are crossed languidly over her Because her arms are crossed over her head, her face is almost She gazes wistfully at the ground to and her thighs are slightly heavy.

completely in the shadows; this shadowing covers the detail of her face in such a way that she could be almost anyone. her left. The woman is rendered very softly and is in a very sensuous pose. Courbet's La Demoiselles au bord de la Seine. This

picture would have been found scandalous for its sexual overtones as was A scarlet cloth lies in front of The vacant, her; it has a very rumpled look which has sexual implications. of a lover who has just left her.

wistful look and the languid crossing of her arms suggests that she is thinking The careful shadowing of her facial features It is leads one to believe she has something to hide from public knowledge.

not covered enough, however, for one to believe she has any shame for appearing in so public a place in such a position; this, too, would have been found scandalous in the 1860's. Now, however, compared to such displays of sexuality and nudity as found in magazines such as Penthouse and Playgirl or X-rated movies, the picture is perceived as a modest, proper display of sexuality. Today there is nothing offensive about the woman's display of sexuality.

One other reason that the critics and public would have found this picture offensive is that to them this is not a display of nudity, but a display of nakedness. setting. The woman is perceived as naked rather than nude, because she is This is not a picture of a nude Venus rising from the sea foam or a This woman is not even a rich patroness This woman could be any not in a classical setting or an important person portrayed in a classical nude Psyche with her adoring Cupid.

being portrayed in one of the classical settings. even a prostitute.

fair-haired woman;whe is a common woman, most likely the artist's mistress or Her nudity is for sensual display, not for classical purposes, therefore it was perceived as nakedness and therefore obscene. Though the woman in combination with her surroundings may have been offensive, there is nothing offensive about her surroundings alone. setting is a beach at nightfall. cloth lying on a dark beach. casulally aside. against. The In the foreground one sees a bright scarlet

It is a very ruffly piece of cloth tossed

In the middle ground is the woman, and whatever she reclines

It is so dark that one cannot tell what it is, but it is painted in Also in the middle ground is the Upon close inspection one can The A loose rope sways slightly.

bold, swirling brush strokes; there is very little color other than black, aside from a few spots of red and gray. billowing canopy under which the woman reclines. canopy appears to be blowing gently in the wind. It curves gently to the right. The background is beautifully executed. beach, the ocean, and the night sky. and two tiny sailboats on the horizon. above the ocean is a very dark gray. see dark billowing clouds. purplish from a distance. Behind the nude are the edge of the

see the canopy is gray and blue striped with thin stripes of scarlet.

The beach is very dark as is the ocean. The sky has the beauty of the actual The sky highest In the lighter sky just below it one can

However, if one looks closely at the ocean can see the gentle waves of the sea sky as the last colors of the sunset fade over the horizon.

The sky just above the horizon is pinkish and The whole background is very tranquil, very

peaceful. The coloring of the picture is somewhat disappointing. While one realizes Courbet uses

that the time of day which is portrayed is hardly conducive to bright colors, one is still diappointed by the small range of colors used. black, grayu, a blue grey, and scarlet. the nude, but the flewh tones are very cool colors. The only thing with light coloring is There is only one bright

color, the cool red which is repeated in the woman's cheeks, lips and nipple. The stripes of red in the canopy are not bright at all as they are so muted by the grays and blues. The way in which the scarlet cloth in the foreground calls immediate attention to Courbet'three-quarter inch signature in the left-hand corner almost makes one wonder if thaat one bright splotch of color wasn't added for egotistical reasons. One remembers how the sky above the The darkness of the color is horizon seemed to have a pink or purple cast, but on closer inspection one finds that it is really a flat bluish-gray. color. There is also little lighting in the picture but it is used more effectively than the colors. A dim light falls on the model, but it is just enough to This same dim light falls on a light her sufficiently to make her stand out. sand. understandable, but I believe Monsieur Courbet could have used a wider range of

small area of beach around her enabling one to see the rich texture of the Another area of dim light is found just above the horizon, relieving one While the picture is very dark it is not from the dark infinity of the sky. totally without light. While one may find fault with the lack of a wide range of color, one cannot find fault with Courbet's technical skills. The picture is well balanced as the outer line of the red cloth in the left hand corner repeats the line of the left side of the woman's body and the gentle curve of the rope hanging from the canopy repeats the line of the right hand side of her body. giving the picture of a deeper perspective. The dim circle of light in the foreground is echoed in the bit of dim light on the horizon,

The juxtaposition of the woman and the canopy which falls from the right hand corner divides the canvas into three triangular shaped pieces of more or less the same size. woman's face. This division brings the focal point of these triangles to the If one starts at the focal point, the range of one's field of Then one's gaze is brought back along the Because the area of the top

vision opens to follow the diverging lines thereby taking in the whole painting until one's eyes reach the frame. lines until it converges on the face of the woman. woman as a focal part. viewer's eyes.

left hand corner is so dark, it puts even more emphasis on the head of the This careful, fanlike division of the picture into three similar shapes is balancing as well as enabling the artist to direct the If one follows these lines of vision one is more able to appreciate Courbet's careful attention to the curves and anatomy of the woman's body, as well as his eye for small detail such as the two tiny boats on the horizon. While many critics of Courbet's time could not understand his choice of subject matter, they could appreciate his execution of the subject matter. Gustave Courbet's subject matter may not have been understood or considered proper in his day, but now they are considered to be more acceptable. mastery of line, form, and balance. quil, restful scene. One, whether of the past or present, must appreciate his technical abilities; his Though his lack of color is disappointing, the picture in itself is very pleasing to look at because it is such a tranWhile Courbet was not totally appreciated in his day, he is in these times considered to be an excellent artist. #