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Overview

Courbet painted events and scenery primarily from his native Ornans, a village in the remote Franche-Comté region. A proponent of realism, he challenged traditional ideas about art by depicting simple peasants and rustic scenery with dignity and on the grand scale usually reserved for history paintings.

Overhanging trees and lush green undergrowth surround a narrow waterway in the forest interior shown in The Stream. The primitive site, seemingly undisturbed by civilization, evokes a yearning popular during the nineteenth century, a romantic desire for a peaceful, restorative retreat from the rigors of modern life. Courbet used an unorthodox palette knife technique to apply irregular layers of pigments, creating a roughly worked surface imitating the textures of foliage, water, and chalky rocks to evoke the physical presence of the terrain.

When he exhibited this painting at the Exposition Universelle in 1855, Courbet specifically identified the wooded gorge in The Stream as Le ruisseau du Puits-noir, vallee de la Loue (Stream of the Black Well, Valley of the Loue), a famous site near Ornans. Long interested in the natural history of his region, including its geology, Courbet was scrupulously accurate in depicting the setting. Freshly observed details and subtle paint manipulation place the National Gallery painting as the first of several depictions of the site.

Inscription

lower left: G. Courbet '55

Provenance

Vauthrin, by 1855 until at least 1867.[1] Laurent-Richard; (Laurent-Richard sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 23 May 1878, no. 6, as Le Ruisseau du Puits-Noir [vallée de la Loue, Doubs], 13,100 francs). E. Secrétan [d. 1899], Paris.[2] Etienne-François-Haro [1827-1897] and his son, Henri Haro [1855-1911], Paris; (their sale, Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, 30-31 May 1892, no. 69, as Le Ruisseau du Puits-Noir, probably bought in); sold 15 October 1897 by Haro to (Durand-Ruel et Cie, Paris, stock no. 4447);[3] sold 19 October 1897 to Henry Osborn Havemeyer [1847-1907] and his wife, née Louisine Waldron Elder [1855-1929], New York;[4] by inheritance to their daughter, Mrs. P.H.B. Frelinghuysen, née Adaline Havemeyer [1884-1963], Morristown, New Jersey; gift 1943 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1855
Exposition universelle, Paris, 1855, no. 2810, as Le ruisseau de Puits-Noir; vallée de la Loue
1858
Bordeau, Le Havre, Dijon, Desançon, 1858
1866
Lille, July-August 1866, no. 385, as Le ruisseau de puits noir
1867
Oeuvres de M.G. Courbet au Rond-Point du Pont de l'Alma, Paris, 1867, no. 20, as Le Ruisseau de puits-noir
1882
Oeuvres de G. Courbet, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1882, no. 56, as Le Ruisseau du Puits noir, repro. Album
1885
Exposition de tableaux, statues et objects d'art au profit de l'oeuvre des Orphelins d'Alsace-Lorraine, Salle des États au Louvre, Paris, 1885, no. 81, as Le Ruisseau deu puits-noir
1988
Courbet Reconsidered, The Brooklyn Museum and the Minneapolis Museum of Arts, 1988-1989, no. 23, as The Stream of the Black Well, Valley of the Loue (Doubs), repro.
1998
Gustave Courbet: Artiste et promoteur de son oeuvre, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne; Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1998-1999, no. 102, repro.
2006
Courbet and The Modern Landscape, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 2006-2007, no. 11, repro.
2007
Gustave Courbet, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2007-2008, no. 84, repro.
2013
Courbet/Cézanne, La vérité en peinture, Musée Gustave Courbet, Ornans, 2013, no. 47, repro.
2014
Gustave Courbet, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2014-2015, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Bibliography
1858
L'Artiste. 18 July 1858: lithographic reproduction.
1878
Blanc, Charles. "Notice." Catalogue de tableaux modernes et de tableaux anciens composant la collection Laurent-Richard. Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 1878:
1878
Le Hir. Journal des Amateurs. 1878: 76.
1897
Estignard, Alexandre. G. Courbet, sa vie et ses oeuvres. Besançon, 1897: 46, 157.
1906
Riat, Georges. Gustave Courbet, peintre. Paris, 1906: 114-115, 131, 253.
1918
Duret, Theodore. Courbet. Paris, 1918: pl. 14, opp. 46.
1924
Meier-Graefe, Julius. Courbet. Munich, 1924: 35.
1929
Alexandre, Arsene. "La Collection Havemeyer: Courbet et Corot." La Renaissance (June 1929): 279, repro. 275.
1929
Jamot, Paul. "Ecole française XIXe siècle." In La Peinture au Musée du Louvre. 2 vols. Paris, 1929-1941: 3:14.
1929
Léger, Charles. Courbet. Paris, 1929: 60.
1931
H.O. Havemeyer Collection. Catalogue of Paintings. Privately printed, 1931: 347, repro.
1948
Léger, Charles. Courbet et son temps. Paris, 1948: 56.
1951
Mack, Gerstle. Gustave Courbet. London, 1951: 112.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 32.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 26, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 82, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 340, no. 460, color repro.
1977
Fernier, Robert. La Vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, catalogue raisonné. Peintures, 1819-1865. Paris, 1977: 108, no. 147.
1981
Wagner, Anne M. "Courbet's Landscapes and their Market." Art History 4 (1981): 410-431.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 445, no. 638, color repro.
1985
Courthion, Pierre. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985: no. 169, repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 102, repro.
1986
Weitzenhoffer, Frances. The Havemeyers, Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986: 117.
1989
Fernier, Jean-Jacques et al. Courbet et Ornans. Paris, 1989: 94, color repro.
1990
Fried, Michael. Courbet's Realism. Chicago and London, 1990: 342, note 47.
1995
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of A rt, Washington, Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.,1995: 183, repro.
2000
Eitner, Lorenz. French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 105-112, color repro.
2006
Brettell, Richard R., and Stephen F. Eisenman. Nineteenth-Century Art in the Norton Simon Museum. New Haven and London, 2006: 174, 176 fig. 44a.