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Gustave Courbet - The Encounter

by Alexandra Tuschka

Courbet himself once described all his paintings as "self-portraits". And indeed, the right-hand man shown here with full black hair and long beard repeatedly appears in his ouevre. It is precisely the conspicuous, pointed beard recognizable here that would soon become Courbet's trademark in Paris. Courbet has shown here a meeting with his patron Aldred Bruyas and his servant. He opposes himself to the men as a free vagabond.

With the utensils of an artist - canvases and brushes - on his back and a walking stick in his hand, he faces the men. The fork in the road where the three of them find themselves appears almost stage-lit. Although Courbet wears plainer clothing, he looks at the men with an uplifted gaze. The two gentlemen exercise respectful restraint. The one on the left lowers his gaze.

In the vernacular, the painting is even said to have been called "Wealth Greets Genius". It thus thematizes the artist's independence from his patron. His basic attitude is also reflected here. Courbet was the process of painting more important than the result. Nature was his constant teacher. In addition to the painter's self-confident staging, it is the simplicity and materiality of the painting that distinguish it.

Gustave Courbet - The Encounter

Oil on canvas, 1854, 129 × 149 cm, Musée Fabre in Montpellier


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