Between 1864 and 1868 Courbet undertook a series of paintings of the female nude. He could not have failed to witness the triumph of Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) at the Salon of 1863, along with the popularity of similar representations by Cabanel's fellow academicians. Here, Courbet evokes the myth of Venus, the goddess born of the sea, but slyly subverts convention by depicting the model’s underarm hair—an element of realism amplified by the almost palpable quality of her flesh.
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Title:The Woman in the Waves
Artist:Gustave Courbet (French, Ornans 1819–1877 La Tour-de-Peilz)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:25 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. (65.4 x 54 cm)
Credit Line:H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): 68 / G. Courbet
the artist, Paris (1868–73, sold in 1873 for Fr 50,000 or Fr 45,000 in bonds to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1873–at least 1875]; Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (by 1882–93; sold on January 9, 1893 for Fr 13,000 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1893; stock no. 2580, as "Femme à la vague"; sold on January 18 for Fr 20,000 to Durand-Ruel]; [Durand-Ruel, New York, 1893; sold on January 30 for $5,000 to Havemeyer]; Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (1893–his d.1907); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929; cat., 1931, pp. 78–79, ill.)
Ghent. Casino. "XXVIIe exposition nationale et triennale de Gand, Salon de 1868," September 13–November 15, 1868, no. 1031 (as "La femme à la mer").
Brussels. location unknown. "Exposition générale des beaux-arts," August 15–October 15, 1872, no. 143 (as "Femme dans une vague").
Vienna. Oesterreichischer Kunst-Verein in Wien. April 19–June 30, 1873 (possibly this work) [see Pohl 1978, Huemer 2012, and Saligram 2015].
Paris. Ecole des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition des œuvres de Gustave Courbet," May 1882, no. 24 (as "La Femme à la vague," lent by M. Faure, de l'Opéra).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of the Works of Gustave Courbet," April 7–May 18, 1919, no. 31 (as "The Woman in the Waves [La femme à la vague]," lent anonymously).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 33 [2nd ed., 1958, no. 94].
Hempstead, N. Y. Hofstra College. "Metropolitan Museum Masterpieces," June 26–September 1, 1952, no. 34.
Haus der Kunst München. "München 1869–1958: Aufbruch zur Modernen Kunst," June 21–October 5, 1958, no. 26 as "Badende—weiblicher Halbakt (Femme à la vague)"; this work was not included in the 1869 exhibition that the present show commemorated.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877," December 17, 1959–February 14, 1960, no. 67 (as "Woman in the Wave").
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877," February 26–April 14, 1960, no. 67.
Paris. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais. "Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877," September 30, 1977–January 2, 1978, no. 109 (as "La femme à la vague").
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877," January 19–March 19, 1978, no. 106 (as "Woman in the Waves").
Hamburger Kunsthalle. "Courbet und Deutschland," October 19–December 17, 1978, no. 277A (as "Frau in den Wellen [La femme à la vague]").
Frankfurt. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie. "Courbet und Deutschland," January 17–March 18, 1979, no. 277A.
Naples. Museo di Capodimonte. "Capolavori Impressionisti dei Musei Americani," December 3, 1986–February 1, 1987, no. 14.
Milan. Pinacoteca di Brera. "Capolavori Impressionisti dei Musei Americani," March 4–May 10, 1987, no. 14.
Madrid. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. "Lágrimas de Eros," October 20, 2009–January 31, 2010, no. 24.
Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Realismo(s). La huella de Courbet," April 7–July 24, 2011, no. 33.
Paris. Musée du Luxembourg. "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," October 9, 2014–February 8, 2015, no. 13.
London. National Gallery. "Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market," March 4–May 31, 2015, no. 8.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting," June 24–September 13, 2015, no. 8.
Journal de Gand (September 16, 1868) [reprinted in Ref. Hoozee 1986, p. 85].
Zoé Courbet. Letter to Ferdinand vander Haeghen. September 19, 1868 [published in Ref. Hoozee 1986, p. 87], lists it as no. 10 of the 11 paintings sent by Courbet to the 1868 Salon of Ghent.
X. X. "Variétés: Exposition triennale de Gand." L'indépendance belge (October 26, 1868), p. 3, notes the picture as among those that may have caused the organizers of the exhibition to place Courbet’s paintings in “a sort of secret room” but quips that “if one were to take fright at so little, one should not visit any exhibition of modern paintings”; praises the execution of the “shivering” skin for its delicacy, transparency, and purplish tints.
Gustave Courbet. Letter to Jules Castagnary. February 9, 1873 [published in P. D. Chu, ed., "Letters of Gustave Courbet," Chicago, 1992, p. 481], lists it among paintings he would like Castagnary to choose from for exhibition in Vienna.
Gustave Courbet. Letter to Alphonse Legrand. February 26, 1873 [published in P. D. Chu, ed., "Letters of Gustave Courbet," Chicago, 1992, p. 488], proposes to sell this work to Durand-Ruel for Fr 50,000 or 45,000 in bonds.
""Theater- und Kunstnachrichten"." Neue Freie Presse no. 3115 (April 26, 1873), p. 8, discusses "Im Bade" as one of the paintings Courbet exhibited in Vienna in 1873, possibly this painting.
Gustave Courbet. Letter to Étienne Baudry. November 26, 1875 [published in P. D. Chu, ed., "Letters of Gustave Courbet," Chicago, 1992, p. 560], requests that Baudry withdraw this and other works from the Durand-Ruel gallery, which was being forced to sell its stock of paintings.
Camille Lemonnier. G. Courbet et son oeuvre. Paris, , ill. p. 34 (etching), reproduces an etching by Charles Courtry; as "Baigneuse en mer".
Alexandre Estignard. Courbet: sa vie, ses oeuvres. Besançon, 1896, p. 166, erroneously lists it as still in the collection of Faure.
Julius Meier-Graefe. Corot und Courbet: Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Modernen Malerei. Leipzig, 1905, pp. 194–95, suggests that the figure can be seen as a personification of the waves.
Georges Riat. Gustave Courbet peintre. Paris, 1906, pp. 264–65, ill., identifies the same model in "Woman with a Parrot" (MMA 29.100.57) and several other nudes; compares this work to Titian's "Venus anadyomène" (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh).
Royal Cortissoz. "Gustave Courbet at the Museum." New York Tribune (April 6, 1919), p. 7.
André Fontainas. Courbet. Paris, 1921, p. 83.
Julius Meier-Graefe. Courbet. Munich, 1921, p. 52.
Charles Léger. Courbet. Paris, 1929, p. 138, pl. 50.
Paul Jamot inLa Peinture au Musée du Louvre. Vol. 1, École française. Paris, 1929, p. 15, calls it "Baigneuse à la vague"; notes that the same model appears in "Venus and Psyche" (F370), "Woman with a Parrot" (MMA 29.100.57), and "La Source" (F627; Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
Arsène Alexandre. "La Collection Havemeyer: Courbet et Corot." La Renaissance 12 (June 1929), p. 278, ill. p. 273.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Exhibition of the H. O. Havemeyer Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25 (March 1930), p. 55.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, pp. 78–79, ill., call it "Nude—La femme à la vague".
Pierre Courthion. Courbet. Paris, 1931, p. 35, pl. 76.
Charles Léger. Courbet et son temps (Lettres et documents inédits). Paris, 1948, pp. 126, 196.
Marie Luise Kaschnitz. Die Wahrheit, nicht der Traum: Das Leben des Malers Courbet. Leipzig, 1949, p. 145.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 23.
Werner Hofmann. Das Irdische Paradies. Munich, 1960, p. 301, pl. 114.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. New York, 1961, pp. 196–97.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 130–31, ill., suggest that the same model posed for "The Studio" (1855; F165; Musée d'Orsay, Paris), "Woman with a Parrot" (1866; F526; MMA 29.100.57), "The Young Bather" (1866; F535; MMA 29.100.124), and "Reclining Nude" (1868; F629, Philadelphia Museum of Art), noting that the same pose appears in the latter.
Hélène Toussaint inGustave Courbet (1819–1877). Exh. cat., Villa Medici. Rome, 1969, p. 48, identifies the same model in "La Réflexion" (F430; Musée de Douai).
Georges Boudaille. Gustave Courbet: Painter in Protest. Greenwich, Conn., 1969, p. 93.
Robert Fernier. Gustave Courbet: Peintre de l'art vivant. Paris, 1969, fig. 51.
Marie-Thérèse de Forges inGustave Courbet (1819–1877). Exh. cat., Villa Medici. Rome, 1969, p. 80.
André Fermigier. Courbet. Geneva, 1971, p. 107, ill. p. 108 (color), calls the figure a sort of "Venus anadyomène" [see Ref. Riat 1906], which recalls both Titian and Romantic nudes, and prefigures Renoir.
Anthea Callen. "Jean-Baptiste Faure, 1830–1914: A Study of a Patron and Collector of the Impressionists and their Contemporaries." Master's thesis, University of Leicester, 1971, p. 146, no. 163.
Jack Lindsay. Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art. New York, 1973, p. 189.
Bruno Foucart. G. Courbet. Naefels, Switzerland, 1977, p. 62, ill. p. 40 (color), calls it "The Woman in the Waves" and "Bather".
Robert Fernier. La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet. Vol. 2, Peintures, 1866–1877. Lausanne, 1978, p. 56, no. 628, ill. p. 57, calls it a "partial replica" of the "Reclining Nude" (F629; Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Hélène Toussaint inGustave Courbet, 1819–1877. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. London, 1978, pp. 147, 178, 180, 182, no. 106, ill. [French ed. ,1977, pp. 165, 198, 200, no. 109, ill.], states that this figure derives from the theme of Amphitrite; in addition to "Reclining Nude" (F627; Philadelphia Museum of Art) and "Reflection" (F430, Musée de Douai), mentions three other pictures with the same model: "Woman with a Cat" (1864; F431; Worcester Art Museum), and "The Awakening" or "Venus and Psyche" (1866; F533; Kunstmuseum Bern) and "Sleep" (1866; F532; Musée du Petit Palais, Paris).
Alan Bowness inGustave Courbet, 1819–1877. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. London, 1978, p. 19 [French ed., 1977].
B[enedict]. N[icolson]. "Courbet at the R.A." Burlington Magazine 120 (March 1978), p. 173, suggests that this picture may have been inspired by Gros's "Diana Bathing," (Musée des beaux-arts, Besançon).
Sieghard Pohl inCourbet und Deutschland. Exh. cat., Hamburger Kunsthalle. Cologne, 1978, p. 586, lists "Im Bade" as one of six works by Courbet on view in Vienna in spring 1873 at the Oesterreichischer Kunst-Verein, possibly this work.
Eldon N[eal]. van Liere. "Solutions and Dissolutions: The Bather in Nineteenth-Century French Painting." Arts Magazine (May 1980), p. 107, fig. 10.
Pierre Courthion. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985, p. 108, no. 612, ill., and colorpl. XXXV.
Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 112–13, 256, pl. 65, relates that after several years, Mrs. Havemeyer convinced her husband to buy this picture, their second nude by Courbet.
R. Hoozee. "Gustave Courbet op het Gentse Salon van 1868." De Wagenmenner en Andere Verhaln. Ed. Claire van Damme and Paul van Calster. Ghent, 1986, pp. 83, 85, 87.
Gary Tinterow et al. Capolavori impressionisti dei musei americani. Exh. cat., Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. Milan, 1987, p. 38, no. 14, ill. p. 39 (color).
Douglas E. Edelson et al. inCourbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, p. 74.
Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin. Courbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, p. 36 [reprinted in Ref. Nochlin 2007, p. 179].
Abigail Solomon-Godeau in Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin. Courbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, p. 179, no. 68, ill. (color), dates it 1866; comments that Courbet transformed the conventional depiction of nudes to suit his own realist ends.
Klaus Herding. Courbet: To Venture Independence. New Haven, 1991, pp. 130, 243 n. 63.
Daniel Arasse. Le détail: Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture. Paris, 1992, pp.191, 194, 234, fig. 222 (color), states that it enlarges tenfold a detail of "Nude Reclining by the Sea" (Philadelphia Museum of Art) and that it is difficult to know which image was the first; notes that the picture has been seen as a response to Paul Baudry's "La Perle et la vague" (1862, Museo del Prado, Madrid), which appeared in the Salon of 1863 and again in Ghent.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 196–97, 330 n. 280.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 214.
Gary Tinterow inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 22, 53 n. 68, colorpl. 20, mistakenly dates it 1866; calls it "prurient".
Gretchen Wold inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 317–18, no. A148, ill. p. 316, erroneously omits Exh. Brussels 1872 from the exhibition history of the picture.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 427, ill.
Sylvie Patin. "La collection Havemeyer." 48/14: La revue du Musée d'Orsay no. 5 (Fall 1997), p. 9, cites it as an example of one of Courbet's more audacious compositions acquired by the Havemeyers.
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu inCourbet: artiste et promoteur de son oeuvre. Ed. Jörg Zutter and Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Exh. cat., Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne. Paris, 1998, pp. 31, 39, 72, 81, 120, 144–45, no. 53, colorpl. 25, discusses this painting within the context of Courbet's nudes of the 1860s, suggesting thematic influences from both classical mythology and contemporary literature.
Valérie Bajou. Courbet. Paris, 2003, pp. 326, 341–43, 419 n. 87, ill. (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 47, 51, 202, no. 31, ill. (color and black and white).
Linda Nochlin. Courbet. New York, 2007, pp. 179, 204, fig. 93.
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 62, 235–36, no. 58, ill. (color and black and white).
Ségolène Le Men. Courbet. Paris, 2007, pp. 229, 232, 366, fig. 185 (color), compares it to Renoir's nudes, Bourdelle's sculptures, and Maillol's "The Wave" (1891–98, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris).
Bernard Teyssèdre. Le roman de l'origine. rev., enl. ed. [1st ed., 1996]. [Paris], 2007, p. 341, misidentifies it as in the Museum of Modern Art's collection.
19th Century European Paintings. Sotheby's, London. June 27, 2007, pp. 240–41, under no. 222, fig. 2 (color).
Laurence des Cars inGustave Courbet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, pp. 367, 386 [French ed., Paris, 2007].
Dominique de Font-Réaulx inGustave Courbet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, pp. 356, 374–76, no. 183, ill. pp. 336–37, 375 (color, overall and detail) [French ed., Paris, 2007].
Dominique Lobstein inGustave Courbet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 438 [French ed., Paris, 2007].
Guillermo Solana. Lágrimas de Eros. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid, 2009, pp. 34–35, 117, 278, no. 24, ill. (color and black and white).
Nicole Myers inCourbet/Clésinger, oeuvres croisées. Exh. cat., Musée Gustave Courbet. [Ornans], 2011, pp. 53, 60, calls the pose a replica of that of the nude bather at far right in Ingres's "Turkish Bath" (1852–59, modified in 1862, Musée du Louvre, Paris).
Christian Huemer. "'Une exposition (in)complète': Courbet in Vienna, 1873." Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 11 (Summer 2012) [http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/summer12/christian-huemer-courbet-in-vienna], mentions a "Bather" among the six original paintings by Courbet exhibited at the Oesterreichischer Kunst-Verein in Vienna in 1873, possibly this work.
Jean-Philippe Huys inGustave Courbet et la Belgique: Réalisme de l'art vivant à l'art libre. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Milan, 2013, pp. 65, 84, 87, 178, fig. 51 (color).
Jeffery Howe inGustave Courbet et la Belgique: Réalisme de l'art vivant à l'art libre. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Milan, 2013, pp. 136, 143 n. 33.
Jeffery Howe inCourbet: Mapping Realism; Paintings from the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and American Collections. Ed. Jeffery Howe. Exh. cat., McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. Chestnut Hill, Mass., 2013, pp. 14, 19 n. 60.
Elise Boudon inCourbet / Cézanne: La vérité en peinture. Ed. Denis Coutagne. Exh. cat., Musée Gustave Courbet, Ornans. Lyons, 2013, p. 160, under no. 30, compares it to Courbet's "Nude Reclining by the Sea" (1868, Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Dominique de Font-Réaulx. "La peinture comme maîtresse." Transferts de Courbet. Ed. Yves Sarfati. [Dijon], 2013, p. 351, ill. on cover (detail), fig. 4 (color).
Paul-Louis Durand-Ruel and Flavie Durand-Ruel inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 44, fig. 25 (color) [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, p. 42, fig. 21 (color)].
Jennifer A. Thompson inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 149 [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, p. 118].
Naina Saligram inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 237, no. 8, ill. (color) [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, p. 164, no. 13, ill. (color)], notes that Courbet authorized its sale to Durand-Ruel for a price five times higher than that at which it had been valued for the 1872 Brussels Salon and more than what Durand-Ruel paid for a group of twenty-four paintings by the artist the same month; states that Durand-Ruel sent it to Vienna in April 1873 and that he probably included it in a show of French masters organized as a side event to the Universal Exposition there; adds that it was published in Durand-Ruel's serial "Recueil d'estampes" in 1874.
Keith Christiansen inDentro Caravaggio. Ed. Rossella Vodret. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2017, p. 247, fig. 9 (color).
Paul Galvez. Courbet's Landscapes: The Origins of Modern Painting. , New Haven, 2022, pp. 124, 127, fig. 55 (color), sees it as "the closest Courbet came to allegorizing the physicality of the sea".
An etching after the painting by Charles Courtry is reproduced in Lemonnier (1878).
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