Courbet, Oller, and a Sense of Place: The Regional, the Provincial, and the Picturesque in 19th-Century Art
The slogan "Il faut être de son temps" has often been cited as central to the conception of nineteenth-century Realism. "One must be of one's times" was the battle cry of Courbet and his followers: the admonition to reject the atemporal generalization of classical art or the anachronistic historicism of the Romantics and turn instead to the contemporary world in all its detailed concreteness for inspiration. Yet no less crucial to the Realist project, it would seem to me, was another admonition, sometimes related to, sometimes in contradiction with, the concern to be of one's times: "One must be of one's place"--that is to say, the injunction to deal with one's native country, region, or even, at its most extreme, one's own property (for this, essentially, is what John Constable did, spending his life painting his father's mill and the river Stour within a two-mile radius of the family lands) in order to grasp the singularity, the concrete veracity of reality, as well as one's deepest and most authentic relation to it.
This injunction to be of one's place, in the case of both Gustave Courbet, the Frenchman from Ornans, and the Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller ( 1833-1917), is even more central than the admonition to be of one's times. "Il faut être de son temps" seems somehow more germane to the up-to-date modernity of a basically urban vision like Manet's. To be of one's place implies an attachment to more lasting values, to a certain type of natural scene associated with rural life and folk customs. Indeed, one might say of Courbet that for no other painter outside