'The way that the light interacts with the foreboding, dark interior to me marks the end of the Romantic spirit of French painting'

Covert of roe-deer by the stream of Plaisir-Fontaine, Doubs, 1866, by Gustave Courbet (1819–77), 681⁄2in by 821⁄4in, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Danny Katz says:
Courbet’s marvellous picture, painted in the forest near Ornans, presents the artist at home. The sense of being part of nature in this forest glade would have been all too familiar to Courbet. What grabs me is the sense of stillness, but with underlying tension — a feeling that a hunter or beast could interrupt the peacefulness at any moment. The way that the light interacts with the foreboding, dark interior to me marks the end of the Romantic spirit of French painting; it anticipates the softer palettes and quicker brushstrokes of impending Impressionism.

Danny Katz deals in Old Master and Modern sculpture and paintings. The Daniel Katz Gallery, founded in 1968, will be participating in London Art Week, July 3–10.

John McEwen comments:
Courbet was a countryman, with a hunter’s knowledge and love of nature. His father was a rentier (person with private income), a convivial and reforming landowner interested in improving farm labourers’ working conditions; his republican and devoutly Catholic mother an efficient manager of the land and vineyards they owned in hilly, forested country near ornans, close to the Swiss border.

Courbet was true to his heredity. One acquaintance wrote that he owed his kindness and sociability to his mother, his ‘boldness, ambition and spirited enterprise’ to his father, his ‘unshakeable self-confidence and indomitable tenacity’ to his maternal grandfather.

Courbet’s father wanted him to be a lawyer, but gave him a grudging allowance to study painting in Paris. Uncompromising pictorial ‘Realism’ brought Courbet notoriety and fan. In 1851, he wrote that he was ‘not only a socialist, but also a democrat and a republican… and above all, a realist… a sincere friend of the truth’. Labels, he later wrote, ‘have never given the right idea… to be a man as well as a painter, in short to create living art—that is my aim’. It made for a turbulent life, including imprisonment and the threat of bankruptcy.

He wrote of this painting: ‘It’s a stream shut in by rocks… there’s a little doe in the middle, like a lady receiving company in her drawing-room. Her mate stands beside her, it is all quite delightful and they are finished like diamonds.’ The landscape was painted in ornans, the deer in Paris. It is painted over a satirical portrait in doubtful taste of baudelaire and others begun in 1854.

This article was originally published in Country Life July 1 2015.