Gustave Courbet

February 27–May 18, 2008

The Painter as Hunter

Courbet, "as much a hunter as a painter," according to an early biographer, drew upon his own experiences in his hunting scenes, which brought him critical and commercial success. As his first foray in this genre, he submitted two hunt pictures to the Salon in 1857. In one of these paintings, The Quarry, the lone huntsman bears the features of Courbet himself, suggestively conflating the identities of artist and hunter.

Courbet's paintings of the hunt fuse the genres of landscape and animal painting. The large scale of works such as The Death of the Wounded Stag (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, Besançon) and Spring Rut (The Battle of the Stags; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) rivals that of history painting. Courbet tellingly expressed his opinion that "the Battle of the Stags ought to have the same impact as the Burial [at Ornans], though in a different way." Courbet exploited drama and emotion inherent in his scenes of the hunt—from the frenzy of hunting dogs going in for the kill to the pathos of a wounded stag on the verge of death—to make monumental and moving paintings.

In his 1867 exhibition Courbet included a group of hunting scenes among his paysages de neige, or snowscapes. These innovative works, painted during the heavy snowfall that blanketed Ornans during winter 1866–67, prompted several young artists, including Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley, to experiment with the new genre. Cézanne later exclaimed, "He painted snow like no one else!"