The Gust of Wind—Gustave Courbet’s largest canvas devoted solely to landscape—was commissioned to decorate a room in the grand Parisian house of the Duke de Bojano. The artist was probably asked to paint a storm, and he approached the task with ferocious energy.
Courbet displays his entire range of technical brilliance as well as his intense personal emotion in this vivid landscape. Dark clouds loom over a panoramic view of windswept oaks that lead the eye from the craggy rock formations and pool of the foreground to the still-sunlit mountain range in the far distance. Whereas the mountains are painted with small, delicate brushstrokes, Courbet made use of the palette knife as well as the brush to create the vibrant effects of the foreground. The rocks take on a sculptural, almost three-dimensional quality thanks to the thick buildup of paint with the knife; by contrast, the tree trunks and branches are created with oily drags of a soft brush, and the leaves are rendered through vague stipple marks.
The landscape is probably a site in the Forest of Fontainebleau, a vast expanse of virtually untouched forest a short distance from Paris. Courbet's inclusion of the mountain range, which does not exist in proximity to the forest, transforms this very realistic setting into a type of fantasy.