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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.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism, which is available as a free PDF


lower left: G. Courbet '55


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

Exposition universelle, Paris, 1855, no. 2810, as Le ruisseau de Puits-Noir; vallée de la Loue
Bordeau, Le Havre, Dijon, Desançon, 1858
Lille, July-August 1866, no. 385, as Le ruisseau de puits noir
Oeuvres de M.G. Courbet au Rond-Point du Pont de l'Alma, Paris, 1867, no. 20, as Le Ruisseau de puits-noir
Oeuvres de G. Courbet, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1882, no. 56, as Le Ruisseau du Puits noir, repro. Album
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
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.
Gustave Courbet: Artiste et promoteur de son oeuvre, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne; Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1998-1999, no. 102, repro.
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.
Gustave Courbet, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2007-2008, no. 84, repro.
Courbet/Cézanne, La vérité en peinture, Musée Gustave Courbet, Ornans, 2013, no. 47, repro.
Gustave Courbet, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2014-2015, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Gustave Courbet and Nature, Exhibit Halls, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara, 2018-2019.
Yan Pei-Ming face à Courbet, Musée départemental Gustave Courbet, Ornans, 2019.


L'Artiste. 18 July 1858: lithographic reproduction.
Blanc, Charles. "Notice." Catalogue de tableaux modernes et de tableaux anciens composant la collection Laurent-Richard. Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 1878:
Le Hir. Journal des Amateurs. 1878: 76.
Estignard, Alexandre. G. Courbet, sa vie et ses oeuvres. Besançon, 1897: 46, 157.
Riat, Georges. Gustave Courbet, peintre. Paris, 1906: 114-115, 131, 253.
Duret, Theodore. Courbet. Paris, 1918: pl. 14, opp. 46.
Meier-Graefe, Julius. Courbet. Munich, 1924: 35.
Alexandre, Arsene. "La Collection Havemeyer: Courbet et Corot." La Renaissance (June 1929): 279, repro. 275.
Jamot, Paul. "Ecole française XIXe siècle." In La Peinture au Musée du Louvre. 2 vols. Paris, 1929-1941: 3:14.
Léger, Charles. Courbet. Paris, 1929: 60.
H.O. Havemeyer Collection. Catalogue of Paintings. Privately printed, 1931: 347, repro.
Léger, Charles. Courbet et son temps. Paris, 1948: 56.
Mack, Gerstle. Gustave Courbet. London, 1951: 112.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 32.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 26, repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 82, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 340, no. 460, color repro.
Fernier, Robert. La Vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, catalogue raisonné. Peintures, 1819-1865. Paris, 1977: 108, no. 147.
Wagner, Anne M. "Courbet's Landscapes and their Market." Art History 4 (1981): 410-431.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 445, no. 638, color repro.
Courthion, Pierre. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985: no. 169, repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 102, repro.
Weitzenhoffer, Frances. The Havemeyers, Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986: 117.
Fernier, Jean-Jacques et al. Courbet et Ornans. Paris, 1989: 94, color repro.
Fried, Michael. Courbet's Realism. Chicago and London, 1990: 342, note 47.
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of A rt, Washington, Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.,1995: 183, repro.
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.
Brettell, Richard R., and Stephen F. Eisenman. Nineteenth-Century Art in the Norton Simon Museum. New Haven and London, 2006: 174, 176 fig. 44a.
Galvez, Paul. Courbet’s Landscapes: The Origins of Modern Painting. New Haven, 2022: 20-21, 25, color fig. 3.

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