Saison Courbet

Saison Courbet
Le bord de mer à Palavas, 1854, oil on canvas, Musée Fabre, Montpellier © Musée Fabre - Montpellier Agglomération / cliché F. Jaulmes
La rencontre ou Bonjour Monsieur Courbet, 1854, oil on canvas, Muséee Fabre, Montpellier © Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération - cliché Frédéric Jaulmes
Die Quelle des Lison, 1864, oil on canvas, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin © bpk / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/ Andres Kilger

Autumn 2014 is the "Courbet Season": Gustave Courbet, the great Realist painter and a revolutionary of painting, came from the Jura, the mountain range that links Switzerland and France. Courbet was always closely attached to his native region but he died in exile in Switzerland, on Lake Geneva. In the autumn of 2014, the Fondation Beyeler and the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva will be staging two exhibitions devoted to Courbet’s oeuvre. The Geneva show will focus on Courbet’s years in exile in Switzerland, to which little attention has been paid until now. The Fondation Beyeler will show Courbet as one of the first avant-garde artists.

"GUSTAVE COURBET" at the FONDATION BEYELER 7 September 2014 – 18 January 2015

The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler will be a comprehensive presentation of Gustave Courbet that will show him to have been one of the most important forerunners of Modernism. His painting and his person no longer corresponded to the traditional understanding of art and genius: deliberately breaking with conventions, Courbet became the most controversial painter of the 19th century. His revolutionary painting technique, which fascinates artists even today, stands centre stage. He used not just the brush but also the palette knife as a painting utensil and at times even applied his paint with his fingers – a tremendous provocation at that time. The exhibition will, in particular, show a selection of Courbet’s most important landscapes. His representations of grottos, at the centre of which lies impenetrable darkness, will be juxtaposed with his paintings of calm and tempestuous seascapes, his famous waves. No painter before him ever treated white paint in the way Courbet did: in his winter paintings, it goes beyond being mere pigment and seems to take on the materiality of snow. A selection of his self-portraits will open the exhibition, which will also feature his fascinating representations of female nudes by water. One of his key works, his notorious painting L’Origine du monde, will have its first ever showing in a European country other than France.

"GUSTAVE COURBET. LES ANNÉES SUISSES" at the MUSÉE RATH 5 September 2014 – 4 January 2015

Gustave Courbet’s final years, spent in Switzerland from 23 July 1873 to 31 December 1877, have been traditionally neglected by art historians. They have long considered that Courbet, ill and emotionally affected by his exile, was no longer the great painter who upended French and European painting in the 1840s. These judgements, largely promulgated at the time, are still prevalent in the realms of present-day art history. Indeed, Courbet’s Swiss years are generally summarised by a handful of works in the exhibitions dedicated to him, by a few paragraphs in monographs on the artist and by the standard comments on his decline. Nevertheless, Courbet continued to be Courbet: a working artist who painted, exhibited his works, led an active social life and was involved in the artistic and political life of his adopted country. The exhibition at the Musée Rath, bringing together for the first time over seventy paintings either created in Switzerland or carried into exile by the artist, wishes to focus on this part of his life, reconsider its importance in his career and measure the impact of his presence on the shores of Lake Geneva upon the Swiss artistic scene. The exhibition thus bears witness to the fact that Courbet, drawing on his past of revolutionary artist and the pictorial experimentations that he continued to pursue, attempted to initiate – despite his illness and the distress caused by his never-ending court cases – an astonishing renaissance.