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A Political and a Pictorial Tradition Used in Gustave Courbet's Real Allegory

Author(s): Margaret Armbrust Seibert

Source: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 311-316
Published by: College Art Association
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Oficio 21, 1662, libro I, folio 1772

Dowry of dofia Sebastiana Arias Maldonada, widow of Juan
Correa de la Pefia, contador, in her marriage to Josephe Ortiz
Castellar, notary public. The dowry is dated 21 November

Un cuadro de una Veronica de mano de Zurbarin con su

moldura dorada y estofada en ciento y cinquenta reales.

A Political and a Pictorial Tradition Used in

Gustave Courbet's Real Allegory
Margaret Armbrust Seibert
In his letter to Champfleury of January, 1855, Gustave Courbet
wrote: "The critics who attempt to judge this work will have
their hands full, they will have to make what they can of it."'
Courbet was describing his most recent work, a canvas that was
later given the paradoxical title: The Atelier of the Painter: A
Real Allegory Summarizing a Period of Seven Years in My Life
as an Artist.
After the voting of the Universal Exposition jury during
March and April of 1855, Courbet wrote to his friend and patron
Alfred Bruyas: "Terrible things have happened to me. They have
just refused my Burial and my last picture the Atelier as well as
the portrait of Champfleury. They declared it was necessary at
any cost to arrest the progress of my movement which has had a
disastrous effect on French art."2 In this same letter Courbet explained his plan to set up an independent retrospective exhibit on
a site opposite the official art exposition. Courbet's Pavilion of
Realism opened at noon, June 28, 1855. A catalogue with a statement by the artist (the "Realist Manifesto") was available for ten
centimes. Listed as "Number 1" was The Atelier of the Painter.
Scholars have always been puzzled by the juxtaposition of the
words "real" and "allegory" in the subtitle of Courbet's most important work. Champfleury was the first to voice confusion in
his letter to Mme. Sand of September, 1855, which he published.
He wrote: "Here are two words that clash with each other and
bother me. ... An 'allegory' cannot be 'real' any more than a
reality' can be 'allegorical ...'"3 But Realism is not reality, and,
as an artistic style, can be allegorical like any other.
This study is a re-examination of the central section of The
Atelier of the Painter, identifying two allegorical traditions apparent there. This section portrays a nude model, a little boy, a
white cat and Courbet himself, in the act of painting a landscape
(Fig. 1).
Partsof this paperwere presentedat the SeventhAnnualMid-American
Art History Meeting, ModernArt Session, ChairmanMathewHerban
III, March, 1980.
1 G. Courbet, Letter to Champfleury, January, 1855, repr. in Mack, 128130, and in R. Huyghe, G. Bazin, H. Adh6mar, Courbet, L'Atelier du
Peintre, Alligorie Reelle 1855 (Monographie des Peintures du Musee du
Louvre), Paris, 1944, 23.

3 Champfleury,Letterto Mme. Sand,September,1855, Nochlin,
1966, 42.
4 G.W. Koltzsch, Maler und Modell im Atelier, exh. cat., Baden-Baden,

1969, text with pl. 17. Courbetcould have seen this print in any one of
severalplacespriorto paintingTheAtelier.The BibliothequeNationale
now owns four copies; two werein the MarollesCollection,acquiredby
Colbertfor LouisXIV.(LetterfromJean-Pierre
Seguin,Conservateur-enChef, Nov. 13, 1980.) Lindsay, 83 and 115, and Mack, 114 and 82, list


The traditional image that comes closest to the presentation

and elements seen in the central section of Courbet's painting, so
far as I have been able to find, is Johann Saenredam's engraving
after a drawing by Goltzius, Painter Painting a Young Woman
(Fig. 2).
The Saenredam and the Courbet agree in number, type, and
placement of all the key foreground figures: painter, nude
model, little boy, and cat. The engraving has been identified by
George Koltzsch as an Allegory of Sight, in which Love holds the
mirror for Venus, the model, combined with an artist's selfportrait and other emblems of vision.4
Yet in spite of obvious similarities, differences between Courbet's painting and the print raise questions regarding Courbet's
recasting of this traditional emblem of Vision in a "realist" mode.
Courbet's model does not pose, but stands behind the painter,
who executes a landscape. Paradoxically, this increases an
awareness of the image's emblematic or allegorical role, while
giving a genre quality to the scene. The child has no wings, wears
peasant clothes, and holds no mirror; and Courbet's cat is white
rather than striped. Yet, the repetition of the same four figures in
a comparable combination leads one to investigate further the
emblem's relevance to Courbet's "real allegory." It is too similar
to be coincidental.
On the other hand, it is not claimed here that Courbet saw the
Saenredam. Both works represent the existence of a continuing
tradition which necessarily included lost images. And commentators have in fact identified the figures in Courbet's painting as
serving the same allegorical function they do in the emblem,
although these writers have apparently overlooked its
In 1856, Theophile Silvestre identified the nude model in The
Atelier as Truth.s More recently, Georges Boudaille, Werner
Hofmann, Jack Lindsay, and Benedict Nicolson have agreed with
this attribution.6 Linda Nochlin and Nicolson have further indicated that the model also functions as an inspiring Muse.7 The
nudity of the model who has cast artifice (her wearing apparel)
aside is the major point on which this attribution of Truth is
based. The tradition of the emblem of Vision ties this down more
securely and relates it to the other images.
The model also represents Beauty. The precedents for this attribution beginning with the story of Apelles and Campaspe are
dealt with by Matthias Winner,8 and various Venuses in the
guise of model are presented by Koltzsch,9 confirming this
equally viable interpretation. Courbet himself linked both Truth
and Beauty with vision in his Open Letter to Students, of 1861:
The beautiful exists in nature and may be encountered in the
Courbet'stripsto FrankfurtandBrussels.A copy of the Saenredamcame
in 1812 from the collection of Senator Johann Carl Br6nnerto the
FrankfurterMuseums-Gesellschaftand was later integratedinto the
Kunstinstitut.(Letterfrom Dr. Lutz S. Malke, Staidelsches
Kunstinstitut,Oct. 1980.)Anothercopy, InventoryNo. SII 8630, exists
at the BibliothequeAlbert ler, Brussels.(Letterfrom N. Tassoul, Subkeeper, Nov. 1980.)
5 Nochlin, 1963, 220; G. Boudaille, Gustave Courbet - Painter in Protest,
trans. M. Bullock, New Haven, Conn., 1969, 65; Nicolson, 31.

Boudaille, 65; Hofmann, 17; Lindsay, 131; Nicolson, 31.

L. Nochlin, "GustaveCourbet'sMeeting:A Portraitof the Artist as a

Wandering Jew," Art Bulletin, XLIX,1968, 220; idem (as in n. 5), 218-19.
s M. Winner, "GemalteKunsttheorie:zu GustaveCourbets'Allegorie
Reelle' und der Tradition," Jahrbuch der BerlinerMuseum, 1960-61, 157.

9Koltzsch(as in n. 4).

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1 Gustave Courbet, The

Atelier of the Painter,
1855. Paris, Louvre
(photo: Clich6 des
Musees Nationaux,

midst of everyday reality ... As soon as beauty is real and visible it has its own artistic expression from these very qualities.
Artifice has no right to amplify this expression. ... The beauty
provided by nature is superior to all the conventions of the artist ... Beauty like Truth is a thing relative to the time in which
one lives and the individual capable of understanding it. The
expression of the beautiful bears a precise relation to the
power of perception acquired by the artist. These are my basic
ideas about art.'1
Thus, the model is Courbet's personification of Truth and
Beauty, and his recasting of them into a modern image is appropriate to the realist character of his style.
The child who stands at Courbet's left in The Atelier has been
considered the "innocent eye which lacks convention" by Hofmann, Lindsay, and Nicolson." Mack and Nochlin see him as the
"homage of future generations.""2 Meyer Shapiro viewed the little boy as a metaphor for Courbet's own sincerity, truth, and
naivet,,13 while Lindsay points out that the child and model are
the only figures who note the work in progress on the easel.14
Thus, the child and model create an effective bracket around
the artist at his easel. If one is taken to be allegorical, so plausibly
may the other. While the child appears as innocent, unlettered,
and naive, he also plays an allegorical role, like the model. The
idea of Love as a poor boy, unusual in allegorical painting, yet
has a base in a text so fundamental to Western thinking that its
availability at any time can hardly be gainsaid. Plato in the
Symposium described him thus:
In the first place he [Love] is always poor, and anything but
tender and fair, as the many imagine him; and he is rough and
squalid ... and like his mother [Poverty] he is always in dis-




w0 If

2 Johann Saenredam after Goltzius, Painter Painting Young

Woman, 1616 (photo: German National Museum, Nuremberg)

G. Courbet,"Open Letterto Students,"Courierdu dimanche,Dec. 25,

1861, Nochlin, 35, and in C. L6ger,Courbet,Paris,1929. Courbet's studies in philosophy at the College Royale, Besanqon,are mentionedin Mack,18, andLindsay,11.

13 M. Shapiro, "Courbet and Popular Imagery," Journal of the Warburg

and Courtauld Institutes, iv, 1940-41, 183.

11 Hofmann, 17; Lindsay, 133; Nicolson, 31.

to paintan atelierself-portraitwith VenusandCupid.


14 Lindsay, 133; Nicolson, 31. E. and J. de Goncourt, French

Century Painters, New York, 1948, 90-91, mention Boucher's intention

12Mack, 131; Nochlin, 1963, 218-19.

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tress. Like his father [Plenty] too ... keen in the pursuit of
wisdom, fertile in resources ... he is in a mean [balance] between ignorance and knowledge ... and being a lover of
wisdom is in a mean between the wise and the ignorant.'5
Love is an attribute of Venus, because he loves Beauty, and
follows her because he was born on her birthday.16However, the
Symposium specifically indicates that love "has no shoes,"17and
Courbet's Love wears sabots.
A visual prototype for Love with sabots is found in PierrePaul Prud'hon's Love and Innocence (Fig. 3), a drawing issued as
an engraving in three different states and also as a lithograph.s1
The representative of Innocence is a girl, and that of Love is
barefooted, but his sabots also appear on the ground beside him.
Lindsay indicates that especially between 1851 and 1855,
sabots were commonly used as a socially charged emblem for the
"realist savages,"'9 of whom Courbet was certainly thought to be
one of the most prominent artistic, if not political representatives.20During this period, cartoons and caricatures frequently
appeared showing Courbet with his models, a Venus, and figures
from his works wearing sabots. One by Cham (1851) shows a
jury awarding sabots to Courbet as a prize for the
Stonebreakers.21Thus, in this instance, sabots could be taken as
Courbet's personal attribute.
As a reference to the satirical cartoons, the image of innocence
and naivete began to emerge as a peasant. It remained, however,
for Courbet to cast Love as an emblem relevant to himself, his
art, and Beauty.
Courbet is the hero of The Atelier, as its full title and the situation indicate. In his introduction to Maler und Modell im Atelier,
George W. Koltzsch states that in every atelier self-portrait, the
status, skill, and imagination of the artist are the real subjects of
the work.22 Winner believes that any canvas on the easel in this
genre regardless of subject allows artist and work to stand for
Painting, Art, and Creation, the work being proof of the artist's
genius.23 As Hofmann indicates, the central section of the work
does glorify Courbet's artistic powers,24 and Bowness affirms
this, stating that Courbet is unequivocally the hero of the work.25
This interpretation is consistent with the allegorial import of the
15 Plato, Symposium, trans. B. Jowett,
Indianapolis, 43. This was brought

to my attention by B.A. Orr.


Ibid., 44.


Ibid., 45.
18E. de Goncourt, Catalogue raisonne de l'oeuvre
peint, dessine, et grave
de PP. Prud'hon, Paris, 1876, 129, No. 52: engraved by Villerey in 1817,
lithograph issued by Leglume, drawing collection of the Duc d'Aumale;
J. Guiffrey, L'oeuvre de P.P. Prud'hon, Paris, 1924, 280, No. 756; 281,
No. 758, another drawing sold in March 1845.
19Champfleury, Le messager de l'assemblee, Feb., 1851, 25-26, cited in
Lindsay, 78: "Some declare the painter is the leader of Socialist bands;
they write that he is the son of the democratic republic of 1848; they'd
like to put black mourning on the Belvedere Apollo. If one hearkened to
them, the members of the institute should sit in their armchairs as the
senators once did in their curule chairs, and die proudly, stricken by the
muddy sabots of the realist savages."
20 Lindsay, 76-78, and 140.
21C. L6ger and T. Duret, preface, Courbet selon les caricatures et les images, Paris, 1920, show many of the illustrations of 1851-55 that
emphasize the sabots. Among them are several by Cham, 12, 14, 18; some
by Quillenbois, 28 and 30, as well as the Hadol Venus in Sabots, 37.
22Koltzsch (as in n. 4), intro.
23 Winner (as in n. 8), 157.
24 Hofmann,

19. For a study of Courbet's Atelier in the light of his


Saenredam print.
However, the emblem has a picture of Beauty (Venus) on the
canvas, not the landscape Courbet's easel presents. Yet commentators say that the relevance of the landscape is the same as
Beauty's relevance to the emblem. According to Nochlin,
landscape reflects the beauty of nature,26while Hofmann states
that it represents reality.27Mack insists that it represents realism
as the only true art,28whereas, as already noted, Winner holds
that any canvas in such a work proves genius.29
Shapiro notes that it is traditional in atelier self-portraits for
an artist to paint a landscape,30and although he does not cite examples, many exist in Netherlandish and French art (Figs. 4 and
5). Courbet's landscape appears remarkably like that seen in the
Boucher (Fig. 5), leading one to suspect that Courbet was
familiar with it, or Igonet's engraving of it, titled Painting.
Philosophically, Courbet holds that works based on nature are
beautiful and express an ideal material archetype.31 Prior to
Courbet, J.B. Deperthes' Theorie du paysage of 1818 significantly ranked landscape immediately after history painting for its
ability "to move the soul and exalt the imagination of the spectator," because the true goal of art is the "faithful imitation of
beautiful nature."32 By placing a landscape on his easel, Courbet
gives it preeminence as a genre just as he gives preeminence to
realism by placing sabots on Cupid and casting his Venus, along
with other aspects of Saenredam's Allegory of Vision, into his
realist style.
It is true that by 1848 landscape and genre seemed to have won
the day. In The Absolute Bourgeois, T.J. Clark notes that in the
Salon of that year, "thirty-six prizes went to painters of genre,
and forty-three to landscapists; the history painters carried off
only fifteen."33 Clark adds that during the next two years
landscape was the second most important form of art the State
The transformation of the attitude toward
landscape is summarized by J.C. Sloane's remark that "modernism appeared first in the humble field of landscape,"3- and
James Rubin follows, remarking '"what may be said to emerge
from the center of the picture [could be interpreted] as a definition of Realism as pure landscape painting."36 In this light,
landscape represents modernism and denotes an aspect of
oeuvre, see M. Fried, "Representing Representation: On the Central
Group in Gustave Courbet's 'Studio,'" Art in America, Sept., 1981, 127133 and 168-178.
A. Bowness, "The Painter's Studio," repr. in Courbet in Perspective,
ed. P. ten Doesschate Chu, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1977, 130.

26 Nochlin, 1963, 219.

27Hofmann, 17.
28Mack, 131.
29 Winner (as in n. 8), 157.
30 Shapiro (as in n. 13), 183.

31Courbet (as in n. 10), 35: "Nature is superior to all the conventions of

the artist. ... Imagination in art consists in knowing how to find the most
complete expression of an existing thing, but never in inventing or
creating that thing itself."
J.B. Deperthes, Theorie du paysage: ou considerations gn&eralessur les
beautes de la nature que l'art peut imiter, Paris, 1818, 1, 4-5, and 139.
33T.J. Clark, The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France
1848-1851, New Haven, Conn., 1973, 69.


Ibid., 69.

J.C. Sloane, French Painting Between the Past and the Present, Princeton, 1951, 71 and 75.
J.H. Rubin, Realism and Social Vision in Courbet and Proudhon,
Princeton, 1980, 6.

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3 Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Love and Innocence. Chantilly, Mus&e

Conde (photo: Giraudon)

Republican patronage. Landscape is a major embodiment of

Realist expression, a manifestation of Truth and Beauty in
presentation and aesthetic.
Fernand Desnoyers confirmed that attitude in 1855 when he
championed Realism as sincere and clear-sighted, comparing the
truth of the realist works to that of mirrors.37A. Boersch has
demonstrated that natural landscape has been "a paradigm of the
aesthetic experience" since the seventeenth century.38 Not only
can the Atelier be viewed as a mirror held up to nature, but the
landscape presents another within: Nature herself on the easel as
gauge and standard of Absolute Truth and reality within
Realism. Venus looks into a mirror in the Allegory of Vision and
her image is restated on the artist's canvas, whereas beauty for
Courbet takes the modern form of landscape; the truth of nature
is the ideal of loved beauty, the principle that earlier centuries
had labeled Venus.
The remaining element to be explored in this discussion of the
Courbet and Saenredam is the cat. The white cat in the
foreground of The Atelier is fascinating, although it has not been
discussed by any of the aforementioned scholars. It is one of the
most prominent motifs in the central section of the work. As the
image placed closest to the viewer, its pose and color attract attention. A cat's place in the studio can certainly be understood in
the context of the "real" as controller of the vermin that eat and
destroy canvas, but what is its "allegorical" function?
Within the context of the Allegory of Vision, Courbet had the
opportunity to use the cat as an emblem that could easily function realistically, while having cultural and political import and
also harmonizing with the other central figures. Champfleury
began research on his book Les chats in 1849, publishing it in
1869 with an etymology: Catar or Chatar in Old French and
Provengal means "to see" or "to look."39 In Egypt the catgoddess Bastet was called the Lady of Truth and associated with
the all-seeing eye of Horus.40The two eyes of the cat were held to
be aspects of foresight and insight.41 Scholars such as Cesare
Ripa also acknowledged the ancients' linking of the cat and
sight, as did Champfleury.
The cat's extraordinary vision in darkness renders it an ideal

4 P. Horemans, Visitors in a Painter's Studio, 1727 (courtesy of

the Netherlands Institute for Art History)

5 Frangois Boucher, The Atelier, ca. 1750. Paris, Louvre (photo:

Cliche des Mushes Nationaux, Paris)
37Sloane, 77.
38 A. Boersch, "Landscape,Exemplarof Beauty," British Journal of
39 Champfleury,Les chats, trans.Mrs. C. Howey, London,1885, 174. J.
Troubat, Sainte-Beuveet Champfleury:Lettresde Champfleuryh sa
mere, a son frkre,et a divers, Paris, 1908, 266, to Sainte-Beuve,Laon,

Oct. 7, 1869: "Ces Chats sont decidement accroches au fameux clou qui

est enfonce pour vingt ans." The Rothschildedition was dedicatedto

Troubat, who indicates with a footnote that this is the work
Champfleuryrefersto in this letter.
40 P. Dale-Green,

Cult of the Cat, New York, 1963, 21-26.

41Ibid., 144-45.

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8 Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Allegory of the Constitution, 1790's.

Dijon, Mus&edes Beaux-Arts (photo: Musee)

jX Ai



6 Hendrik Goltzius, Sight, 1578 (photo: Rijksmuseum,


emblem. Older editions of Ripa sometimes use a lynx.42 The

word derives from the Greek Leukos which means "white, light
and sight."43 But domestic cats replaced the lynx, as we see in
Hendrik Goltzius' Sight of 1578 (Fig. 6)44 or in a Fabritius panel
of Sight at Aachen (Fig. 7), which shows a cat looking into a
mirror held by a peasant boy.
In 1848 Theophile Gautier published an article on Republican
symbolism in L'artiste. This article specifically cites in its text the
iconologies of Ripa, and Gravelot and Cochin. Similar information also appeared in Champfleury's Les chats: "The origin of
the cat as a symbol of independence is of remote antiquity. In the
temple of Liberty which Rome owed to Tiberius Gracchus the
Goddess was arrayed in white ... at her feet was a cat, the emblem of Liberty. From the Middle Ages down to modern times we
repeatedly find the cat used as a symbol of independence."45
Some of the examples cited in Champfleury employ the cat alone
as a representative of independence,46 and special mention is
made of its uses as an emblem of the French Republic by both
Gautier and Champfleury. The cat became a part of the
Republic's coat-of-arms and appeared at the feet of Liberty in
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon's Allegory of the Constitution (Fig. 8), a
detail of which appeared in Champfleury's Les chats.47 The
white cat in Courbet's Atelier follows the dictates that Liberty be
draped in white,48 reinforcing the fact that this is her cat,

42C. Ripa, Iconologia: Baroque and Rococo Pictorial Imagery 1758-1760,

intro. and comments,E. Maser, Dover repr. of Herteled., New York,

1961, text with pl. 110.
4 The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1961, vi, s.v., "Leuco-,"

7 Barent

"look,""Lynx";Ix,s.v. "sight."
44Letterfrom Jean-PierreSeguin (footnote4): the Goltziusplatesat the
BibliothequeNationaleareunderrestoration,so that the presenceof this
one in the collectioncannotbe verifiedat this time.
45 T. Gautier,"EcoleNationaledes Beaux-Arts:The Symbolismof the
Republic," L'artiste, 5e serie, June 15, 1848, 160-61, repr. in E. Holt, The
Triumph of Art for the Public, New York, 1979, 495-496; Champfleury
(as in n. 39), 28-32.
46Champfleury, 31-32.

Ibid., 32.

48 Gautier, 495-96.

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Independence. 49
Numerous representations of Liberty and her cat were
available, as Gautier and Champfleury demonstrate. In addition,
the cat will not tolerate constraint, a quality that Courbet
demonstrates by holding an independent retrospective for himself which paralleled those given for Ingres and Delacroix at the
Universal Exposition at the offical 1855 Salon.
In his letter to Mme. Sand, Champfleury confirms that
through the Courbet exhibit where The Atelier was the principal
piece, a new blow for Liberty was struck. Courbet is presented
as: "A painter whose name has made an explosion since the
February Revolution. ... It is an incredibly audacious act; it is the
subversion of all institutions associated with the jury; it is a
direct appeal to the public, it is liberty say some. ..."50
It is impossible to think that Courbet was unfamiliar with
Republican symbols. He loved his grandfather, a veteran of
1793. The seven-year phase that The Atelier covers, according to
its subtitle, began in 1848, the year of the February Revolution
and birth of the Second Republic as well as Courbet's creation of
his first Salon success, After Dinner at Ornans. Courbet's
socialist and Republican sympathies were well established in
1848, when he helped to found the Republican newspaper, Le
salut public.
Courbet's introduction to the 1855 Pavilion of Realism, his
written manifesto, was accompanied by a visual manifesto as
well, The Atelier of the Painter: A Real Allegory Summarizing a
Period of Seven Years in My Life as an Artist. The painting
parallels Courbet's introduction to the catalogue showing his
clear understanding and use of tradition and visually states:
I have studied, outside of any system and without prejudice,
the art of the ancients and the art of the moderns. I no more
wanted to imitate the one than to copy the other. No! I simply
wanted to draw forth from a complete acquaintance with
tradition the reasoned and independent consciousness of my
own individuality.
To know in order to create, that was my idea. To be in a
position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of
my epoch, according to my own estimation; to be not only a
painter, but a man as well; in short to create living art - this is
my goal.51
The Columbus College of Art and Design
Columbus, OH 43215

Hofmann,W., Art in the NineteenthCentury,trans.B. Battershaw,London, 196.
Lindsay,J., GustaveCourbet:His LifeandArt, New York,1973.
Mack,G., GustaveCourbet,Greenwich,Conn., 1952.
Ibid., 495: "and the cat, independence- becausethis animalis never
50 Repr. in Nochlin, 1966, 37-38. It is interestingthat in 1850 Courbet
hadan exhibitionin Dijon,wherethePrud'honAllegoryof the Constitutionwas hanging.The workwas laterreproducedin part(Libertyandher
cat) in Champfleury'sLes chats. Although the work may have been
available,I do not insist thatCourbetdid see it in Dijon.
51G. Courbet,Exhibitionet vente de 40 tableauxet 4 dessinsde l'oeuvre
de M. Gustave Courbet,Avenue Montaigne,Paris,1855, n.p.,
Nochlin, 1966, 33-34; facsimilewith completelistings in Leger(as in n.


10), 60-62.

Nicolson, B., Courbet: The Studio of the Painter, New York, 1973.
Nochlin, L., 1963, "The Development and Nature of Realism in the
Work of Gustave Courbet," Ph.D. diss., New York University.
1966, ed., Realism and Tradition in Art, 1848-1900, Englewood
Cliffs, NJ.

Manet'sDejeunersur l'herbein the Salon des

Refuses: A Re-appraisal
Alan Krell
Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe is invariably singled out as a symbol of early modernism. Attention is drawn to the "succes de
scandale" it gained at the Salon des Refuses of 18631 - even the
Emperor Napoleon was supposed to have censured it in public2
- and one writer has compared its iconoclastic nature to
Duchamp's gesture of placing a moustache on the Mona Lisa.3
Examples of criticism leveled at the Dejeuner in 1863 were
quoted by Adolphe Tabarant in his two studies of Manet
published in 1931 and 1947.4 George Hamilton presented similar
material.5 Neither of these scholars found that the critical estimates called into question the so-called "succes de scandale" attributed to the Dejeuner.6 To Tabarant's credit, he did question
Proust's account of Napoleon's rebuttal of the painting. Quite
correctly, he noted the absence of any reference in the press to
the Emperor's visit to the Refuses, let alone to a denunciation of
Manet's picture.7
Anne Hanson rightly observes that, even though Hamilton
"interprets the criticism as extremely negative and depressing to
the artist" (and this is in reference to Manet's career as a whole
and not simply the Dejeuner), "Hamilton's excerpts show that
Manet was defended, albeit grudgingly, and that his works were
noted and commented upon."8 Hanson also makes the important
See, e.g., T. Duret, Histoire d'Edouard Manet et de son oeuvre, Paris,
1902, 26, J. Richardson, Edouard Manet: Paintings and Drawings, London/New York, 1958, 22, B. Farwell, "A Manet Masterpiece Recon1963, 45, I. Dunlop, The Shock of the New,
sidered," Apollo, LXXVIII,
London, 1972,
2 This
story originated with Manet's biographer, Antonin Proust. See
Proust's recollections (Edouard Manet: Souvenirs) first published
serially in La revue blanche in February, March, and April, 1897; see
LXXXIX, Feb. 15, 1897, 172. Further credence is given to this story by
Denis Rouart and Daniel Wildenstein in Edouard Manet: Catalogue
raisonne, 2 vols., Paris/Lausanne, 1975, I, 12.

3 L. Nochlin, The Invention of the Avant-Garde: France, 1830-80, in

Avant-Garde Art, ed. T. B. Hess and J. Ashbery, London, 1967/68, 21.
4 A. Tabarant, Manet: Histoire catalographique, Paris, 1931, 95-97, and
idem, Manet et ses oeuvres, Paris, 1947, 68-70.
New York, 1969,
s G. H. Hamilton, Manet and His Critics (1st ed. 1954),
6 See A.
Krell, "Wit, Irony and the Search for Acclaim: Manet and the
Nude in the 1860's," Ph.D. diss., Bristol University, 1977, 50-72.
7 Tabarant, 1947 (as in n. 4), 72. Proust may have based part of this story
on Edmond Bazire's book in which he mentions the scandal created by
Napoleon's visit to the "centre de revolutionnaires"; see Bazire, Manet,
Paris, 1884, 23. Bazire is less than accurate on the Refuses, identifying Le
Bain and the Dejeuner as two different pictures. Manet exhibited his
painting as Le Bain; see Catalogue des oeuvres refuses par le jury de
1863, Paris, 1863, No. 363.
C. Hanson, Manet and the Modern Tradition, New Haven and Lon8 A.
don, 1977, 46, n. 260.

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