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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 grandscale usually reserved for history paintings.

La Grotte de la Loue depicts the source of the Loue river and surrounding massive rock formations, a scene of intense and primitive beauty. Eliminating all but rocks and water in this dense geometric composition, Courbet heightened the contrast between dark cavern and still water inside and rugged limestone rocks tinted soft pink, blue, and gray and flowing white water outside the cave. Except in the diminutive figure, Courbet used the unorthodox palette knife technique to apply irregular layers of pigments, creating a roughly worked surface imitating the textures of the setting and evoking the physical presence of the terrain. Long interested in the natural history of his region, including its geology, Courbet was scrupulously accurate in depicting the setting, a famous site near Ornans. One of several variant images of the site, the National Gallery painting is distinctive for the inclusion of a spear fisherman, whose presence gives scale to the immensity of the overhanging rocks and unseen depths of the cave.

Inscription

lower left: Gustave Courbet

Provenance

Sold February 1872 by Courbet to Paul Durand-Ruel; (Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris).[1] Emile de Girardin [1806-1881], Paris; (his estate sale, Paris, 24 May 1883, no. 8, as La Grotte). (Stephen Higgins, Paris); sold 28 December 1956 to (Germain Seligmann/Gersel Corp., New York); (Jacques Seligmann & Company, New York);[2] sold 1957 to Brigadier General Charles Lionel Lindemann, Washington, D.C.; gift 1957 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1986
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad; State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1986, no. 11, repro.
1988
Courbet Reconsidered, The Brooklyn Museum and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1988-1989, no. 48, repro.
1989
Gustave Courbet Retrospective Exhibition, The Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1989, no. 25, repro.
1998
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877): Later Paintings, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York; Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York, 1998, not in cat. (shown only in Roslyn Harbor).
2000
Gustave Courbet et la Franche-Comté, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, Besançon, 2000, no. 63, repro.
2007
Gustave Courbet, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2007-2008, no. 113, repro.
2011
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The National Art Center, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 2011, not in catalogue (shown only in Tokyo and Kyoto).
2013
Courbet/Cézanne, La vérité en peinture, Musée Gustave Courbet, Ornans, 2013, no. 48, repro.
2014
Gustave Courbet, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2014-2015, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Bibliography
1906
Riat, Georges. Gustave Courbet, peintre. Paris, 1906: 253, 330, repro.
1946
Wartman, W. "Courbet, die Grotte der Loue." Jahresbericht 1946 der Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft. (1946): 33, pl. IXb.
1958
Comstock, H. "The Connoisseur in America: Courbet's 'La Grotte de la Loue.'" The Connoisseur 140, no. 566 (January 1958): 281-282, repro.
1959
Evans, Grose. French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1959 (Booklet Number Two in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC): 22, color repro.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): no. 10.
1961
Seligman, Germain. Merchants of Art, 1880-1960: Eighty Years of Professional Collecting. New York, 1961: pl. 116.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, ed. Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 152, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 323, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: no 33.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:418, color repro.
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.
1976
Nochlin, Linda. "Gustave Courbet: A Study in Style and Society." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1963. New York, 1976: 162-163.
1977
Fernier, Robert. La Vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, catalogue raisonné. Peintures, 1819-1865. Paris, 1977: 218, no. 393, repro.
1980
Callen, Anthea. Courbet. London, 1980: 87, pl. 55.
1980
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-1875. New York, 1980: 238, fig. 118, Hamburger Kunsthalle version. (Third ed. rev. New York, 2007: 205, fig. 10.4, NGA painting)
1982
Maurer, Emil. "'Die Quelle der Loue.' Zu einem Gemälde im Kunsthaus Zürich." In 15 Aufsätze zur Geschichter der Malerei. Basel, Boston, and Stuttgart, 1982: 161-168.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 445, no. 641, color repro.
1985
Courthion, Pierre. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985: no. 374, repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 102, repro.
1987
Courthion, Pierre. Courbet. Paris, 1987: no. 374, repro.
1988
Faunce, Sarah and Linda Nochlin, eds. Courbet Rediscovered. Exh. cat. The Brooklyn Museum, 1988: 14, 61, 153-156, no. 48, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington. London, 1992: 183, repro. (Not in 1995 rev. ed.).
1997
Laurillard-Cuinet, Hélène. Empreintes de Gustave Courbet. Ornans, 1997: 7, color 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: 118-126, color repro.