Magazine article Artforum International

What Is Courbet?

Magazine article Artforum International

What Is Courbet?

Article excerpt

HOW CAN ONE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE COURBET YEAR? After all, that's what I'm hoping this year will become. I saw the major retrospective in Paris last winter, when it was showing at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; it is now on view at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art until May 18 and makes its final stop in June at the Musee Fabre in Montpellier, France. Notably, for this exhibition, the Fabre, home to so many of Courbet's major works, loaned out La Rencontre, or Bonjour Monsieur Courbet--whose title the painter's contemporaries parodied by calling it La Fortune saluant le genie (Fortune Saluting the Genius). The character of their humor becomes clear when we consider the entry on this painting in the catalogue raisonne, which quotes critic Paul Mantz from 1868, the year Alfred Bruyas donated the work to the Fabre:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

  In the year 1854 Courbet had a serious accident[:] he painted an
  insignificant, ridiculous painting, probably with the intention of
  preserving the memory of his first meeting with Alfred Bruyas, the
  congenial art lover who was supporting him in his struggles; he
  composed La Rencontre, a fairly unambiguous painting that shows
  Bruyas, the painter himself, a domestic servant and a coach. The scene
  is taking place on one of the main roads outside Montpellier in the
  dust of midday. This painting, a work of mediocre interest,
  immediately became famous under the title: Bonjour Monsieur Courbet.
  This is the source for the ironic, wittily bleak lines by Theodore de
  Banville, the poet who one day goes wandering through the countryside,
  finding baseness for which he is ill prepared and unanticipated
  vulgarity: trees are standing askew, the flowers favor garish colors,
  the wrinkles in Cybele's robes are overdone. When challenged to
  explain these absurdities, this senselessness, great Nature replies in
  a melancholy voice:
    "--Friend, when you behold something so utterly sad and ugly as
  this, it can only mean that Monsieur Courbet has just walked by."
    Explanations of this sort ought to have plunged Courbet into an
  abyss of bad conscience. He contents himself with smiling, for he is
  intractable or at least comports himself as if he were.

Nowadays, you can't bring up Paul Cezanne; no one cares about him anymore. I recently overheard someone saying words to this effect, referring to art academies in New York. And of course this person was referring above all to the interests of the average art student. For there is a different coolness factor at work now, steeped in ideas of the "ready-made artist," "expropriation" instead of "appropriation," "painters without paintings and paintings without painters," "shandyism," and formalism in its new form--which basically means practicing Kandinskian formalism in the full knowledge that it cannot possibly work out, but sticking with it all the same. (Which, in fact, sounds like fun.) Yet at the moment, the classiest works are those in which irony takes effect only on the third level: Irony takes on irony. And so now there can be "painting" again. Admittedly, this is not merely a side effect of any newly ironic approach--"models" can, after all, be simply means to an end. But I find the mood at this point quite good. And now I'm being ironic. I'm already enjoying thinking of the results and the extent to which they will be pret-a-porter. The nasty critique of irony I describe is, naturally, working with quite different weapons than was Courbet.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

NOT HAVING PLANNED WELL for my visit to the Galeries Nationales, I stood for two hours in the cold, for which I was underdressed, in a really quite long line without any particularly convincing prospect of successfully entering the show. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.