Baltimore—The Walters Art Museum will present a major exhibition devoted exclusively to the landscape paintings of Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), one of the leading painters of 19th-century. These landscape paintings are intense, dramatic and radically innovative yet they have been largely neglected by art historians for more than a hundred years—even though they represent a significant part of Courbet’s overall output. Courbet and the Modern Landscape, on view Oct. 15, 2006–Jan. 7, 2007, will bring attention to this aspect of the artist’s career and its importance to the history of modern painting. The exhibition was on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Feb. 21–May 14, 2006 and traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, June 18–Sept. 10, 2006. The Walters Art Museum is the last and exclusive east coast venue of this touring exhibition.
“We are pleased to have so many stunning Courbet landscapes from around the world for all our visitors to enjoy,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan. “Many of these paintings have never been on view in the United States, so this really is a spectacular opportunity. The show will also include an innovative design that allows viewers to experience Courbet’s paintings in a new way.”
“At the Walters, the exhibition will be presented in a unique format incorporating music and lighting effects designed to draw viewers more deeply into Courbet’s art,” said Eik Kahng, Walters curator of 18th- and 19th-century art. “This experimental installation will stress the unique auditory quality of these magnificent landscapes, which can be understood as attempts to paint sound.”
The museum is also pleased to present a related small show with a dozen paintings borrowed from regional institutions and private collections. Entitled Courbet/Not Courbet, it will explore the issues of authenticity that have dogged Courbet’s late landscapes. This show will be on view Sept. 6, 2006–March 11, 2007.
The Walters has partnered with The Peabody Conservatory to create a unique musical experience for visitors to the exhibition. The installation is grouped into four sections, each with a seasonal theme and mood. Students from the Peabody ’s renowned composition department have drawn inspiration from Courbet’s paintings to create original, ambient music that will encourage the visitor’s complete sensory immersion into the landscape. The music, which is intertwined with sounds such as wind and water, is complemented by subtle lighting effects designed by lighting artist Paul Deeb (founding CEO of the Baltimore-based lighting corporation Vox) that will simulate almost imperceptibly the changing intensity of light from dawn to dusk.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Courbet’s insistence on painting directly from nature defied traditional styles and subjects of 19th-century European studio painting. At times, his compositions, with their dramatic contrasts of light and shadow, verge on abstraction. Courbet departed from traditional oil painting brush techniques, using a variety of unorthodox tools, especially palette knives, as well as rags, sponges and even his fingers. Today, however, Courbet is remembered more for his monumental figurative works, such as Burial at Ornans (1849-50), and as a leader of the Realist movement than for his landscapes.
This exhibition presents a rare opportunity to appreciate Courbet’s innovative brilliance in a genre of painting that was a point of departure for themes pursued by Claude Monet (1840–1926), Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and other French painters of the time. Courbet and the Modern Landscape brings together a carefully selected group of 37 paintings executed between 1855 and 1877, including an important new acquisition from the Getty’s collection and major paintings from international public and private collections. Most date to the 1860s when Courbet chose to paint the familiar landscape of his beloved hometown, Ornans, located in the province of Franche-Comté in eastern. There are also a group of seascapes, done when the artist made several trips to the Normandy coast, and a selection of paintings from the last decade of the artist’s life.
The selection of Courbet’s landscapes represents the finest examples, each chosen with special care, of a variety of subject matter, including forest scenes, grottoes, snowscapes and seascapes. One highlight is the Getty’s Grotto of Sarrazine Near Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne (c. 1864), a close-up view of the gaping, black mouth of a cave. The rough stone is depicted by paint thickly applied with a palette knife and brush. The monumental painting, The Gust of Wind (c. 1865) from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is another masterpiece, depicting a storm advancing over a wooded area with tree limbs whipped backwards and gathering clouds racing across the sky. The readily visible traces of Courbet’s brush and knife capture the forceful drama of the subject, while showcasing the artist’s undeniable virtuosity. This exhibition also includes several paintings of one of Courbet’s best-known motifs—a spot near Ornans called the Puits Noir (black well). Earlier, more conventional landscapes such as The Stream (1855), on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gradually give way to increasingly abstract compositions with broadly worked zones of light and dark.
Courbet spent the last years of his life—in the mid 1870s—in exile in because of his role in the civil war known as the Paris Commune. Depressed and in failing health, the artist imbued landscapes, like Sunset, Vevey, Switzerland (1874), with a deep sadness that is difficult not to read as a psychological projection of his own heightened sense of mortality.
Courbet and the Modern Landscape has been organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Walters Art Museum. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. The Walters venue is presented by The Women’s Committee of the Walters Art Museum with additional support provided by Mr. and Mrs. Austin H. George.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, Courbet and the Modern Landscape, by Mary Morton and Charlotte Eyerman, curators in the department of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, with an essay by Dominique de Font-Réaulx, curator at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The hardcover publication is available for $45 in the Museum Store or at www.thewalters.org.
ADMISSION AND HOURS
Admission to the Walters Art Museum is free beginning Oct. 1, 2006. New museum hours are Wednesday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The museum is also closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The Walters will be open on the following days: the day after Thanksgiving, the day after Christmas, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
THE WALTERS ART MUSEUM
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets and is one of only a few museums worldwide to present a comprehensive history of art from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. Among its thousands of treasures, the Walters holds the finest collection of ivories, jewelry, enamels and bronzes in and a spectacular reserve of illuminated manuscripts and rare books. The Walters’ Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Ethiopian and western medieval art collections are among the best in the nation, as are the museum’s holdings of Renaissance and Asian art. Every major trend in French painting during the 19th century is represented by one or more works in the Walters’ collection.
Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. This historic property is just around the corner from the museum and features George’s, a full-service restaurant. For hotel reservations, call 1-800-292-5500 and ask for the special Walters discounted rate.