Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gustave Courbet, Sunset Over Lake Leman

Gustave Courbet, Sunset Over Lake Leman, 1874

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was a leading Realist painter committed to painting only what he could see.  His work demonstrates a wide range of subject matter, including peasant scenes, portraits, and landscapes, which was accompanied by a fairly diverse style.  Among Courbet's landscapes, this late work does not exhibit his usual style, but it is not the only example of this style.  Many of Courbet's paintings are marked by a strong, precise line which Courbet felt would most accurately portray the reality of what he saw.  In this painting, we see a much freer line in which Courbet's hand and brushstrokes are quite visible.  This looser brushwork is most common in Courbet's forest scenes, wherein the dappled light shining through the leaves lends itself to this technique.  In this sunset Courbet takes the same approach so that the power of the light becomes the most prominent feature in the scene as it plays off of the water and the clouds.  The intense color of the sunset is quite striking as it disperses through the clouds just above and reflects off the water and even the cliff.  This piece has some kinship with the Hiroshige I posted a few days ago, and although I don't believe Courbet would have seen the Japanese printmaker, we can see the similar ways that two very different masters portrayed the power of a glowing sunset on the water.

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