Materials and technics: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: H. 77,5 x w. 62 cm
Inscriptions: Signed and dated bottom left: Gustave Courbet 1844
Inventory number: PPP734
Acquisition details: Gift of Juliette Courbet, 1909
Twelve years younger than Gustave, Juliette Courbet appears in this portrait as the daughter of a rural public figure, posing for her brother, who had been living in Paris since the autumn of 1839. This adolescent portrait with her intense yet elusive gaze exudes an unsettled atmosphere which corresponds well to the complex and unique personality of the model.
The careful attention given to the decoration of the interior, with a mirror in which no reflection can be seen, is a rare feature in the work of Courbet, who generally preferred to depict his figures in the open-air or in front of a totally neutral background. The light and soft tones, the importance given to line and contour, and the meticulous depiction of the fabric seem to be have been influenced, on this occasion, by Ingres who at the time dominated portraiture in France.
In a letter to his parents, Courbet wrote that he was going to present this painting to the jury of the 1845 Salon “for a laugh”, under the title “the baroness of M.”. Courbet, who closely followed the mechanisms of the Salon and the marketing strategies which could be developed there, and full of ambition and confident for the future, perhaps saw in this subterfuge, rather than a simple joke by a young artist, the means of finding patrons by creating the impression that the portrait was commissioned by a person of high standing. Whatever the case, the portrait was rejected by the Salon jury.
Throughout his life, Courbet was supported by his family and in particular the youngest of his four sisters, Juliette. The sole legatee, and having remained single, she devoted the rest of her life to supporting her brother’s work and donated major works which had remained in the studio to French museums. And so in 1909 the Petit Palais received six paintings including portraits of Juliette, Zélie, the artist’s second sister, and Régis Courbet, their father.
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