Courbet, who had put on his own exhibition in Paris in 1855 with the title “Le réalisme” out of protest at the rejection of his works, is the link between the Barbizon school and French modernism. His modernity was not in his subject matter but rather in his innovative use of paint and colour. He was the first to be accused of “dirty painting,” an accusation that was later to be levelled at his successors like Max Liebermann. Courbet painted numerous landscapes, most frequently depicting the chalk cliffs of the Jura mountains and the river valley of the Loue near where he was born in Ornans. This sombre view of a weir was painted on a black ground in the new spatula technique developed around 1865, not with the glowing patches of colour of other works of the time, but with consistently subdued tones of green, blue, and brown. In 1864 Courbet spoke about this way of building up a picture out of darkness: “You are puzzled that my canvas is black. But nature without the sun is dark and black; I am doing what light does, all I do is lighten everything that stands out and the picture is finished.” One of the main themes in Courbet’s work is water with all its interpretative potential: moving or still, bubbling up as a spring, standing in a grotto, flowing freely or breaking over itself as a wave. In his famous studio picture from 1855, Courbet portrayed himself working on a landscape. There again it is a region from the French Jura, with a cliff, water, and a mill.


  • Title: The Weir at the Mill
  • Creator: Gustave Courbet
  • Date Created: 1866
  • Physical Dimensions: w64.5 x h54.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • original title: L'écluse de la Loue
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: A I 549
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-815114
  • External link: Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Prestel Verlag / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Photo: © b p k - Photo Agency / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Jörg P. Anders
  • Collection: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist biography: Gustave Courbet was a French painter and led the realist movement in French painting in the 19th century. At the age of 20 he went to Paris, and worked at the studio of Steuben and Hesse. He soon began to forge his own style by studying Spanish, Flemish and French artists and painting copies of their work. In the early 1840s he created several self-portraits, in which he slipped into different roles. Journeys to Belgium and the Netherlands in 1846/47 served to strengthen his philosophy on art: artists should portray life around them, like Rembrandt, Hals and other Dutch masters had done. He exhibited After Dinner at Ornans at the Salon of 1849 which gained him a high reputation. He soon became a celebrity, often declared as a genius. He acquired the status of a hero for the French avant-garde and became an important influence on the younger generation, most importantly for such figures as Manet. In 1870 he established a ‘Federation of Artists’ for the free and uncensored expansion of art. In 1871 he was sentenced to prison for his insistence during the Paris Commune on executing the communal decree for the destruction of the Vendôme Column, which he saw as a symbol of aggressive imperialism. One of Courbet’s most important artworks is 'A Burial at Ornans' (1849–1850). He had a profound influence on such diverse artists as Claude Monet and Edward Hopper.
  • Artist Place of Death: La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland
  • Artist Place of Birth: Ornans near Besançon, France
  • Artist Dates: 1819-06-10/1877-12-31

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