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Stream of the Puits-Noir at Ornans, c. 1867-1868

Gustave Courbet

French, 1819-1877
Oil on canvas
39-3/8 x 59-1/4 in. (100 x 150.5 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Gustave Courbet was deeply attached to the rural landscape of his childhood in Ornans, which is located in eastern France not far from the Swiss border. Not only did his strong connection to the countryside forge his populist political and social beliefs, it was the subject of several of his landscape paintings. This particular gorge, known as the Puits-Noir (dark font or well) and located just a few miles from Ornans, was the subject of nearly thirty paintings, all but one smaller than this example. The brittle, spindly trees, the heavy limestone outcroppings, and the bare bank of this winter landscape seem to have inspired the way in which the work was painted. Indeed, Courbet’s first use of his famous palette knife was made in his rural landscapes. The resulting thick patches of pigment did not just illustrate, they literally presented the physical structure of the subject itself. The solidity of the landscape is undeniable, reflecting in it both Courbet’s material approach to Realist painting as well as his personal bond with his native landscape.

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