Lot 319
  • 319

Gustave Courbet

200,000 - 400,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gustave Courbet
  • la vague

  • signed G. Courbet. lower left
  • oil on canvas
  • 60 by 73cm., 23½ by 28¾in.


Gillet Collection, Lyon
Pierre Granville, Paris 
Arthur Tooth and Sons, London (by 1959)
Crane Kalman Gallery, London
Acquired by the family of the present owner from the above in 1962; thence by descent


London, Arthur Tooth and Sons, Recent Acquisitions, 1960, no. 3
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, The Sea, 1962, no. 1


Robert Fernier, La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet. Catalogue raisonné, Geneva, 1978, vol. II, p. 82, no. 687, catalogued & illustrated

Catalogue Note

Courbet loved the sea, which he first discovered in 1854 when staying with his friend Alfred Bruyas in Montpellier. But it was with his trips to Trouville from 1865 and to Etretat in 1869 that his marine paintings took on the importance they now occupy in his oeuvre.

André Fermigier and Klaus Herding make the analogy between the sea as painted by Courbet, and the cliffs of his native Ornans: solid, green or grey, striated with reds and ocres, the immutable sea takes on an almost earthy dimension.

Embracing the sea as he had the rocks and hills of Ornans in his youth, the sea in his paintings of the '60s is no longer a distant presence as in his early Mediterranean pictures, lapping gently against a flat beach, but very close and immediate. The sea rises into a solid, rocky crest, at the very forefront of the picture plane, startling and absorbing the viewer.

La Vague has all the hallmarks of Courbet's Ornans landscapes, transposed to the sea. The rolling wave unfurls, forming a grotto or cave comparable to the source of the Loue (lot 322), its substance accentuated by the thick impastos applied with a palette knife. 

The sense of stasis and monumentality central to Courbet's wave paintings may well be attributed to the advent of photography. The fugitive moment becomes an eternal one, no more masterfully than in the present work.

Courbet's wave paintings epitomise everything that is original in his artistic expression. His first-hand observations are enriched through his memory and his interest in photography, but above all by his inner vision: 'Everything he sees,' remarks André Fermigier, 'he sees from the inside' (quoted in Gustave Courbet, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Grand Palais, 2007, p. 291).