revolutionary dreams - landscape fakes, by jessica hoare
Post on 22-Jul-2016
Embed Size (px)
DESCRIPTIONWe present four essays, giving a fresh look at the Museum's collection of pre-Impressionist French paintings, researched and interpreted by postgraduate students from the University of Bristol.
Landscape Fakes by Jessica Hoare
Due to his involvement with the failed civilian uprising of 1871, known as the Paris
Commune of 1871, Gustave Courbet was arrested and imprisoned. Following his
arrest and subsequent exile to Switzerland, his work remained popular but was
boycotted by the French State until his death in 1877. The artist Jean-Louis Ernest
Meissonier, in his role as a judge for the 1872 Salon, announced that Courbet must
be excluded from the Salons, henceforth; he must be dead to us.1 However the
controversy did not hamper Courbets ability to sell on the private market. Despite
Courbets inability to sell at the Salon, the popularity of landscapes with the clients of
private dealers led to his increasing dependence on the genre after 1873.
1 Avis Berman, Larger than Life, Smithsonian Magazine (2008) [accessed 14th January 2012]
Unable to keep up with demand for his work and meet debts imposed by the State
he turned to collaborators.2 His exile to Switzerland had followed in 1875 when the
newly established Republican government charged Courbet with the cost of
rebuilding the Vendme column. Unable to meet these costs Courbet fled. In
Switzerland he was joined by Cherubino Pata, who by this time had been assisting
Courbet with the production of his works for several years.
While in Switzerland his escalating alcohol problem, failing health and looming debts
called for several assistants who learnt to produce works, which he only needed to
tweak and sign. Resultantly Courbets late paintings are plagued by issues of
attribution and Amgueddfa Cymrus The Mill at Orbe is no exception. There are
several factors that exacerbate attribution further. First, it is difficult to establish a
sense of stylistic evolution as he erratically changed how he painted.
2 Anik Morrow, Gustave Courbet: Materials, Techniques and the Problems with The Attribution of a Painting Entitled "The Mill" (Unpublished doctoral thesis, Harvard University, 1989). p. 4.
Gustave Courbet, The Mill at Orbe, 1875, oil on canvas, 49.6 x 60cm, purchased with funds from the James Pyke Thompson bequest, 1912 (NMW A 2446)
These changes are so pronounced that there is almost a sense that he painted
differently depending on his mood, health and, arguably, sobriety. As his health
declined, Pata took over the studio supervising copyists and arranged sales. Pata
also continued to produce pseudo Courbets. Two particular weaknesses in Patas
painting style have been identified in contrast with Courbets own work and these are
his muddied grey tones and heavy-handedness in application.3 These two issues are
certainly present in the museums painting and support the doubts over the paintings
The Mill at Orbe requires further study before we are able to make further
judgements on its attribution. Courbet was certainly not alone in his deceit. There is
a joke within the art history community that illustrates the issue, it says that: of the
1500 paintings by Courbet, 3000 are in the United States. It is not uncommon to find
the jokes figures altered with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corots name inserted instead.
Manner of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, A Lake at Sunset, oil on canvas, 22.6 x 34.9cm, bequeathed by Gwendoline Davies, 1951 (NMW A 3494) 3 Morrow, p. 6.
The Lake at Sunset , in the museums collection, was previously thought to be by
Corot but has been confirmed a fake. As with Courbet, it appears that Corot may
have collaborated in this deception to a certain degree. As acts of charity he would
sign works for artists that needed to make a quick sale.4 Our attitude to fakes and
forgeries is particularly interesting and reveals how we as a society define value and
creative genius. Despite the fact that these issues appear to be less of a concern for
some of the artists who colluded in the process and these works still serve to deepen
our understanding of the situation and temperaments of particular artists.
4 Gary Tinterow and others, Corot (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996) p. 389.