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Gustave Courbet papers

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1232

Abstract

Title:
Gustave Courbet papers
Author/Creator:
Courbet, Gustave
Collection number:
79-4
Size:
1.25 linear feet
Bulk dates:
1837-1877
Inclusive dates:
1837-1877
Collection Area:
State of Maryland and Historical Collections
Repository:
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email: askhornbake@umd.edu
Abstract:

The papers of French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) cover a forty year period, and consist primarily of letters to his family from the time he was in school at Besançon in 1837 until a few months before his death in 1877. The collection also includes one letter to Gustave Courbet from an unidentified correspondent and some correspondence and business papers of his father Régis Courbet. Important subjects discussed in the letters include: Courbet's daily life, his work and personal difficulties, his paintings and exhibitions, family property, and his travels to Belgium, Holland, and Germay. Family issues appear frequently, including attempts to aid his mother's cousin Natalie Oudot Vertel after the death of her husband. Courbet also writes of important historical events including the 1848 Revolution and Second Republic, the Franco-Prussian War, and the Commune.

Important Information for Users of the Collection

Restrictions:

This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

Gustave Courbet papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.

Status:

This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

Jean-Desiré Courbet was born in Ornans, Franche Comté, France, June 10, 1819, to Elénor-Régis-Jean-Joseph-Stanislas (known as Régis) Courbet, a well-to-do landowner, and Suzanne-Sylvie (known as Sylvie, sometimes spelled Silvie) Oudot. He had three younger sisters, Jeanne-Thrèse-Zoé (known as Zoé), Jeanne-Zélie-Mélodie (known as Zélie) and Bernardine-Juliette (known as Juliette). Throughout his life, Courbet would remain deeply attached to the France-Comté, a region bordering Switzerland, and its social, cultural, and geographical contexts greatly influenced his art. As a child and a young man, he attended the Petit Séminaire in Ornans. In 1837, he was sent to the Collège royal in Besançon to study law. Courbet disliked his studies and the school, and most of his letters from this period are demands to return home. The following year, his father agreed that he could attend the Académie de Besançon, studying art under Charles-Antoine Flageoulot, who had been a pupil of neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David. After these two years of formal study, Courbet finally received permission from his father to live in Paris in the fall of 1839.

In Paris, Courbet studied briefly under Charles de Steuben, Père Suisse, and Père Lapin, but mostly he learned by copying works by the Old Masters in the Louvre. He considered himself an outsider and an individualist. Advocating political and social change, and despising the aristocracy and royalty, his leanings and outlook were decidedly republican and anti-authoritarian. Influenced by realist author and critic Champfleury, Courbet became known as the father of Realism, a style that rejected romantic, pretty pictures and the "ideal." He preferred to paint everyday people and life and from his own era, not historical subjects. In Paris, he developed friendships with Charles Baudelaire, Champfleury, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon among many others.

Early in his career, Courbet painted a large number of self-portraits, one of which Self Portrait with Black Dog, was his first painting accepted, in 1844, by the Paris Salon. He established a reputation with his paintings, The Stone Breakers and A Burial at Ornans. By the early 1850s, he acquired the patronage of collector Alfred Bruyas, enabling him to paint subjects of his own choosing, which included landscapes, portraits, hunting scenes, and still life. Courbet's art began to sell well, but after Louis Napoleon declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851, artistic freedom suffered, and Courbet began to paint less political, more commercial works. Critics sometimes attacked Courbet's art as representing a threat to the class system. In 1855, Courbet painted perhaps his greatest work, The Painter's Studio. This allegorical work incorporated portraits of his friends Baudelaire, Bruyas, Champfleury, and Proudhon and portrayed the artist's studio as the center of society. After three of his paintings were rejected for the 1855 Exposition Universelle, Courbet set up his own exhibition adjacent to it. There, his paintings were admired by Eugène Delacroix and James McNeill Whistler, yet were still vilified by some as coarse and democratizing.

Courbet remained very politically active and opposed Napoleon III. In the late 1860s, he returned to political subjects in his painting, and, in 1870, he rejected Napoleon III's offer of the Legion of Honor. After Napoleon III's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Courbet joined the Paris Commune and was put in charge of protecting Paris's artistic monuments and museums. He advocated the removal of the Vendôme Column (a tribute to Napoleon I), although the actual destruction of the column was approved by others. Even so, after the overthrow of the Commune, Courbet stood trial for the column's destruction. The court found Courbet responsible, issued a fine, and sentenced him to prison for six months. In 1873, the Chamber of Deputies held Courbet accountable for the cost of re-erecting the column. Fearing arrest and wishing to avoid the seizure of family property and his paintings, he fled to Switzerland in July 1873. In 1877, the cost for re-erection of the column was determined to be 323,000 francs payable by Courbet in installments of 10,000 francs annually. Courbet continued to paint in Switzerland and hired assistants to help him produce enough paintings to pay the fine, sometimes signing paintings that were not completely his own. He died at La Tour-de-Peilz near Vevey, Switzerland, December 31, 1877, the day before the first payment was due.

Ultimately Courbet was a great influence on later painters including the Impressionists and many twentieth century artists. He was held in great reverence by Paul Cézanne and James McNeill Whistler. With the return of republicanism in France in the 1880s, Courbet's reputation was secure as a socially committed and modernist artist.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The papers of Gustave Courbet cover forty years, from his attendance at school in Besançon in 1837 until a few months before his death in 1877. They consist mostly of Gustave Corubet's correspondence to his family in Ornans and Flagey. There is also one letter to Courbet (possibly from the Mademoiselle Belfort who acted in locus parentis at school). In addition, there are correspondence and business papers of Régis Courbet mainly dealing with monetary support for Gustave in Paris.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland libraries purchased the papers of Gustave Courbet in the United States in 1979. The papers are presumably from the collection of Jean Adhémar, formerly of the Bibliothèque Nationale in France, who collected the materials with the intention of writing a biography of Courbet.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Unknown. Guide revised by Valerie Vanden Bossche March, 2009.

Processing note:

Two series were created. All items were unfolded and placed in mylar sleeves where size permitted. All items were placed in a flat box.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Jennie A. Levine.

Arrangement of Collection

This collection is arranged as two series:

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Gustave Courbet, null (null)

This series (Folders 1 through 5) consists of sixty letters written by Gustave Courbet to his family and friends, followed by one letter written to him. All of the letters written by Gustave Courbet are arranged chronologically according to the dating in Petra ten-Doesschate Chu's book The Letters of Gustave Courbet, available in French and English. Chu's identifying numbers, prefaced by the abbreviation "LGC," have been added to the item level list to facilitate identification and dating.

Items of particular interest are an August 26, 1842 letter in which Courbet mentions acquiring a little black dog, which is the dog in his Self Portrait with a Black Dog; two letters from early 1845 in which he mentions sending paintings to an exhibition and the acceptance of Guittarrero; and a letter to his friend Urbain Cuenot from circa 1866 in which he discusses a myriad of topics including his work, an American exhibition, his health, and his plans for the orchards at Ornans (with sketch). Two letters of historic note from circa August of 1870 and February 23, 1871, relate Courbet's opinions of the Franco-Prussian War and its affect on Ornans, Napoleon III, the theft of his paintings, and the Vendôme Column. Of interest regarding Courbet's personal life, in letters dated July 20, 1873, and May 29, 1875, he discusses leaving for Switzerland, his upcoming trial and certainty of conviction, the death of his sister Zélie, and his anger at his sister Zoé and her husband.

For each item, the locations of the letter-writer, and of the recipient, are included if known.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / FrameItem
Gustave Courbet -- letters, 1837[?]-1842[?] series 1box 1folder 1
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 37-2), circa November, 1837 series 1box 1folder 1item 1
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 37-3), circa November 30, 1837 series 1box 1folder 1item 2
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 37-4), circa December 4, 1837 series 1box 1folder 1item 3
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 37-6), circa December 15, 1837 series 1box 1folder 1item 4
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 37-7), circa December 28, 1837 series 1box 1folder 1item 5
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 38-1), circa January 5, 1838 series 1box 1folder 1item 6
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Ornans (LGC 38-3), March 19, 1838 series 1box 1folder 1item 7
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his grandfather Oudot (LGC 38-5), circa Winter, 1838-1839 series 1box 1folder 1item 8
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family at Flagey, with envelope (LGC 39-2), circa April, 1839 series 1box 1folder 1item 9
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family (LGC 39-3), circa May-June, 1839 series 1box 1folder 1item 10
Gustave Courbet, to his father (LGC 40-1), circa April, 1840 series 1box 1folder 1item 11
Gustave Courbet, to his family at Ornans (LGC 41-1), circa January 25, 1841 series 1box 1folder 1item 12
Gustave Courbet, to his family at Flagey (LGC 41-3), circa August 26, 1841 series 1box 1folder 1item 13
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans; mentions acquiring "little black English dog." (LGC 42-3), circa early May, 1842 series 1box 1folder 1item 14
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans; mentions finding atelier at rue de la Harpe (LGC 42-4), circa December 24, 1842 series 1box 1folder 1item 15
Gustave Courbet -- letters, 1842[?]-1846[?] series 1box 1folder 2
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans (LGC 42-5), circa late December, 1842 series 1box 1folder 2item 1
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his grandparents Oudot (LGC 44-3), circa March, 1844 series 1box 1folder 2item 2
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family (LGC 44-4), circa December 13, 1844 series 1box 1folder 2item 3
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his father (LGC 45-1), circa January-February, 1845 series 1box 1folder 2item 4
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans; mentions sending paintings to exhibition including "Dream of a Young Girl," "Guittarrero," "Checkers Players," "Portrait of a Man," and "Baroness de M" [portrait of his sister Juliette]; mentions death of M. Vertel (LGC 45-2), circa February-March, 1845 series 1box 1folder 2item 5
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Flagey, with envelope (LGC 45-3), circa April, 1845 series 1box 1folder 2item 6
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans (LGC 45-4), circa May-June, 1845 series 1box 1folder 2item 7
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans (LGC 45-5), circa Summer, 1845 series 1box 1folder 2item 8
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his father (LGC 45-6), circa August, 1845 series 1box 1folder 2item 9
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans (LGC 46-1), circa January 10, 1846 series 1box 1folder 2item 10
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family (LGC 46-2), circa February, 1846 series 1box 1folder 2item 11
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family (LGC 46-4), circa March, 1846 series 1box 1folder 2item 12
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family (LGC 46-6), circa April 18, 1846 series 1box 1folder 2item 13
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans (LGC 46-8), circa August 1, 1846 series 1box 1folder 2item 14
Gustave Courbet, in Amsterdam, to Mme. Papeians de Morchoven (LGC 46-10), circa August 24, 1846 series 1box 1folder 2item 15
Gustave Courbet -- letters, 1847[?]-1870[?] series 1box 1folder 3
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans, with envelope (LGC 47-1), circa January 1, 1847 series 1box 1folder 3item 1
Gustave Courbet, in Ghent, to his family at Ornans (LGC 47-4), circa September 6, 1847 series 1box 1folder 3item 2
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans (LGC 47-6), circa December 21, 1847 series 1box 1folder 3item 3
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his father; discusses the 1848 revolution, Ledru-Rollin, Rattier, Changarnier, M. Napoléon [Louis Napoleon]. Letter is incomplete. (LGC 49-3), circa June 17, 1849 series 1box 1folder 3item 4
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his mother (LGC 50-6), circa Fall, 1850 series 1box 1folder 3item 5
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family at Ornans; mentions painting "The Wrestlers," sending more paintings to Frankfurt (LGC 52-4), circa October 15, 1852 series 1box 1folder 3item 6
Gustave Courbet, in Saintes, to his family; about having exhibition there at everyone's insistance, doing one or two sculptures (LGC 63-2), circa early January, 1863 series 1box 1folder 3item 7
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to Urbain Cuenot; includes sketched plan for planting apple trees at Ornans (LGC 66-7), circa April 6, 1866 series 1box 1folder 3item 8
Gustave Courbet, in Paris?, to his family (LGC 66-23), September 2, [1866] series 1box 1folder 3item 9
Gustave Courbet, in Saint Aubin, to his sisters [Zoé and Juliette] (LGC 67-25), circa August 25, 1867 series 1box 1folder 3item 10
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family; mentions sister Zoé's engagement to Eugène Reverdy (LGC 68-1), circa January 9, 1868 series 1box 1folder 3item 11
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his family; mentions sister Zoé's marriage contract (LGC 68-4), circa Spring-Summer, 1868 series 1box 1folder 3item 12
Gustave Courbet, in Salins? to his family at Flagey, with envelope (LGC 69-13), circa December 14, 1869 series 1box 1folder 3item 13
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his sister Juliette; mentions buying a museum containing ten Rubenses (LGC 70-13), May 11, 1870 series 1box 1folder 3item 14
Gustave Courbet, in Paris?, to his family at Flagey, with envelope; about the Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon III, marching on the Chamber [of Deputies] (LGC 70-23), August 9, [1870] series 1box 1folder 3item 15
Gustave Courbet -- letters, 1871-1877 series 1box 1folder 4
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his father; about his appointment as President of Artists Committee in charge of saving art objects and museums, and his wish to have the Vendôme Column demolished; shells damaging his atelier and his Ornans atelier being burgled (LGC 71-4), February 23, 1871 series 1box 1folder 4item 1
Gustave Courbet, in Paris, to his sister Juliette (LGC 72-4), March 3, 1872 series 1box 1folder 4item 2
Gustave Courbet, in Ornans, to his sisters [Juliette and Zélie] (LGC 72-12), circa June 21, 1872 series 1box 1folder 4item 3
Gustave Courbet, in Ornans, to his sisters [Juliette and Zélie], with envelope (LGC 72-16), September 10, [1872] series 1box 1folder 4item 4
Gustave Courbet, in Morteau, to his sisters [Juliette and Zélie] (LGC 72-17), September 16, 1872 series 1box 1folder 4item 5
Gustave Courbet, in Besançon, to his family, about family property and saving his paintings (LGC 73-10), February 8, 1873 series 1box 1folder 4item 6
Gustave Courbet, in Ornans, to his sisters [Juliette and Zélie] (LGC 73-27), circa April 26, 1873 series 1box 1folder 4item 7
Gustave Courbet, in Ornans, to his sister [Zélie] (LGC 73-24), circa mid-late June, 1873 series 1box 1folder 4item 8
Gustave Courbet, in [Maizières], to his sisters [Juliette and Zélie]; about leaving for Switzerland, upcoming trial and certainty of conviction (LGC 73-41), July 20, 1873 series 1box 1folder 4item 9
Gustave Courbet, in [Fleurier], to his father and sisters in Flagey (LGC 73-44), circa July 23, 1873 series 1box 1folder 4item 10
Gustave Courbet, in [Vevey?], to his sister Zélie; requesting that she ask the Reverdys to send him all his documents relevant to the Vendôme Column for his upcoming trial (LGC 73-47), circa October, 1873 series 1box 1folder 4item 11
Gustave Courbet, in La Tour-de-Peilz, to his sister Juliette; about their sister Zélie's death and his grief (LGC 75-9), May 29, 1875 series 1box 1folder 4item 12
Gustave Courbet, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, to his father (LGC 76-25), September 4, 1876 series 1box 1folder 4item 13
Gustave Courbet, in La Tour-de-Peilz, to his sister Juliette and his father; mentions his negotiations with the government (LGC 76-31), December 24, 1876 series 1box 1folder 4item 14
Gustave Courbet, in La Tour-de-Peilz, to his sister Juliette (LGC 77-17), circa July 1, 1877 series 1box 1folder 4item 15
? to Gustave Courbet -- letter, 1837[?] series 1box 1folder 5
? [possibly Mlle Belfort] to Gustave Courbet in Ornans on vacation from college; urging him to honor his parents' wishes and work harder at school, circa December 3, 1837-1838 series 1box 1folder 5item 1

Series 2: Régis Courbet business papers and correspondence, null (null)

This series consists of two groupings of Régis Courbet items, his business papers and his personal correspondence, mainly related to his son, Gustave, and to his family. The business papers (Folder 1) contain seven items consisting of letters, checks, and receipts of Régis Courbet regarding funds sent to his son, Gustave, in Paris. They are in chronological order within the folder. The second grouping (Folder 2), of Régis Courbet personal correspondence, consists of four letters: one from son-in-law Eugène Réverdy to Régis, one from M. Vertel to Régis, and two written by Régis. They are in chronological order within the folder.

For each item, the locations of the letter-writer, and of the recipient, are included if known.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / FrameItem
Régis Courbet -- business papers and correspondence, 1842-1844 series 2box 1folder 1
Receipt given by G.? Panier to M. [Régis] Courbet for the sum of 400 French Francs, at Ornans, May 23, 1842 series 2box 1folder 1item 1
Check made payable to Cefaicers [?] and Renard brothers in the amount of 305 French Francs signed by M. [Régis] Courbet at Ornans, August 19, 1842 series 2box 1folder 1item 2
Letter from Panier Rave and Paillard in Paris to M. [Régis] Courbet about his son, Gustave, requesting 300 French Francs, August 20, 1842 series 2box 1folder 1item 3
Receipt by M. Panier from M. [Régis] Courbet at Ornans for the sum of 500 French Francs, October 21, 1842 series 2box 1folder 1item 4
Paris, check by M. [Régis] Courbet and M. Panier payable to Mssrs Bretillot et Cie for 600 French Francs on behalf of his son, June 3, 1844 series 2box 1folder 1item 5
Check by M. [Régis] Courbet, Ornans, to Panier and Paillard, Paris, for his son's account in the amount of 202 French Francs, June 28, 1844 series 2box 1folder 1item 6
Letter from J. Panier, Paris, to M. [Régis] Courbet requesting payment of sums advanced to M. Courbet's son, July 21, 1844 series 2box 1folder 1item 7
Régis Courbet -- personal correspondence, 1841-1868 series 2box 1folder 2
Paris, [M.] Vertel to M.[Régis] Courbet about relatives, Gustave, and Mme [Sylvie] Courbet, July 7, 1841 series 2box 1folder 2item 1
[Régis] Courbet, in Paris, to [his wife] Silvie at Ornans about the family, Gustave, visiting, August 9, 1842 series 2box 1folder 2item 2
Ornans, [Régis] Courbet to les Demoiselles Emourgeons [sp?], Traders, about his daughter Juliette, circa August 2, 1855 series 2box 1folder 2item 3
[Eugène] Reverdy to M. [Régis] Courbet about Zoé's difficulties being forgotten, about her dowry and marriage contract, circa July 27-29, 1868 series 2box 1folder 2item 4

Related Material

The Letters of Gustave Courbet (1992) by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, published in both French and English, contains all of the then-known letters written by Gustave Courbet, along with indices of paintings, correspondents and others mentioned in the letters, a chronology of the artist's life, and an index. The book identifies all the sources of the published letters. The English version of the book has English translations of the letters, but not the original French versions. Other repositories with significant holdings of Courbet papers are: the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, Bibliothèque d'art et d'archéologie in Paris, and the Société des amis de Gustave Courbet in Ornans. In addition, the Pierpont Morgan Library and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Stanford University, Palo Alto, California; and the Musée départmental de la maison natale de Gustave Courbet, Ornans, France hold smaller collections of Courbet papers.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Selected Search Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.

Subjects