Even though Courbet often employed a bold and painterly technique, the lack of pictorial resolution in this work is striking, and may be the result of its having been painted out of doors, without subsequent revisions. Robert Fernier (1977) plausibly dated the canvas 1862, to the artist’s sojourn in the Saintonge region of western France. He identified it as Ruisseau, vallée de Fontcouverte; étude, which Courbet included in an exhibition he helped to organize in the winter of 1863, in the city hall of Saintes. Next to the entry for number 97 in Courbet’s personal copy of the exhibition catalogue (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), the artist wrote "à Auguin," indicating that he had given the painting to the landscapist Louis-Augustin Auguin (1824–1904).
Courbet had arrived in Saintes on May 31, 1862, at the invitation of Étienne Baudry (1830–1908). Intending to stay two weeks, Courbet remained a year, soon moving out of Baudry’s chateau de Rochemont and developing a friendship with Auguin and other local painters, with whom he frequently painted out of doors. In the 1863 exhibition Courbet showed at least two views that may be related to the present work, including Paysage, vallée de Fontcouverte (no. 75) and Paysage (vallée de Fontcouverte) (no. 167). Another painting, Vallon de Fontcouverte (no. 6), was credited as a collaboration between Courbet and Auguin (the locations of all three works are unknown; see Bonniot 1973). Another product of the painters’ relationship is Courbet’s portrait of Auguin (Musée Courbet, Ornans), which the sitter inscribed, "J’ai posé devant Courbet pour le commencement d’ébauche. Port Berteau. Le 23 sept. 1862. L. Auguin" (I posed for Courbet for the beginning of the sketch . . .).
The first certain owner of the MMA painting was the influential art critic Théodore Duret (1838–1927), a champion of Manet and the Impressionists who owned a number of Courbets. Duret was a cousin of Baudry’s and an eyewitness to Courbet’s Saintonge sojourn (see Courbet, Paris, 1918, ch. 4, "A Saintes," pp. 55–66). It is possible that Duret acquired this painting through a Saintonge connection: the portrait of Auguin bears a second inscription, one which testifies to an early provenance that may parallel that of the MMA painting: "Ce portrait m'a été offert par M. Cl. Boucher, verrier à Cognac qui le détenait d'une parente de Auguin à Bordeaux. Gaston Balande. Cognac 1908" (This portrait was offered to me by M. Cl. Boucher, glassmaker at Cognac, who got it from a relative of Auguin’s at Bordeaux . . . ).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2015]
Inscription: Signed (lower left): G. Courbet.
? Louis-Augustin Auguin, Port-Berteau, near Saintes (from 1863; gift of the artist); Théodore Duret, Paris; Marczell de Nemes, Budapest (until 1913; his sale, Galerie Manzi, Joyant, Paris, June 18, 1913, no. 102, as "Ruisseau dans la forêt," for "Fr 4,100 sur demande de Fr 5,000" to Trotti); [Trotti, Paris, from 1913]; James Stillman, Paris and New York (until d. 1918); his son, Ernest Goodrich Stillman, New York (until 1922)
Saintes. Hôtel de Ville. "Exposition de peinture au profit des pauvres," January 15–February 11, 1863, no. 97 (as "Ruisseau, vallée de Fontcouverte; étude") (possibly this work).
Budapest. Szépmüvészeti Múzeum. 1911 [see sale catalogue, Galerie Manzi, Joyant, Paris, June 18, 1913, no. 102].
Paris. Palais des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition Gustave Courbet," May–June 1929, not in catalogue [see Gronkowski 1929].
Newark Museum. "19th-Century French and American Paintings from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 9–May 15, 1946, no. 8 (as "Pond in the Valley").
Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. "The Artist Looks at Nature," November 30, 1952–January 13, 1953, no. 21.
Winnipeg Art Gallery. "French Pre-Impressionist Painters of the Nineteenth Century," April 10–May 9, 1954, no. 54.
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Paintings of the Barbizon School," January 6–29, 1962, no. 10.
Little Rock. Arkansas Arts Center. "Five Centuries of European Painting," May 16–October 26, 1963, unnumbered cat. (p. 43, as "A Brook in a Clearing").
Phoenix Art Museum. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Loan Collection: 'The River and the Sea'," February 15, 1967–February 15, 1968, no. 4 (as "Pond in the Valley").
Explication des ouvrages de peinture et de sculpture exposés dans les salles de la Mairie au profit des pauvres. Exh. cat., Hôtel de Ville. Saintes, 1863, p. 6, no. 97, calls it "Ruisseau, vallée de Fontcouverte; étude" (possibly this work) [Courbet annotated this entry "à Auguin" in his personal copy of the catalogue, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, fig. 56 in Bonniot 1973].
George Sakier. "La Peinture française du XIXe siècle au 'Metropolitan Museum of Art' de New-York." L'Amour de l'art 7 (June 1926), p. 203, ill. p. 200, calls it "Mare dans la vallée".
Camille Gronkowski. "L'exposition Courbet." Le Figaro artistique (May 2, 1929), p. 481, calls it "L'Etang dans la vallée" and notes its loan to Paris 1929.
Five Centuries of European Painting. Exh. cat., Arkansas Arts Center. Little Rock, 1963, p. 43, ill., dates it "sometime between 1851 and 1856" and suggests that it was painted near Fontainebleau; observes the influence of Barbizon painting.
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. 109–10, ill., date it between 1851 and 1856; suggest that it was painted at Fontainebleau or in the vicinity of Le Blanc (Indre).
Roger Bonniot. Gustave Courbet en Saintonge, 1862–1863. Paris, 1973, p. 172 n. 17, fig. 56, mentions "Ruisseau, Vallée de Fontcouverte" and reproduces excerpts from Saintes 1863, including no. 97 (possibly this work).
Robert Fernier. La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet. Vol. 1, Peintures, 1819–1865. Lausanne, 1977, pp. 188–89, no. 325, ill., calls it "Ruisseau, vallée de Fontcouverte" or "L'Étang dans la clairière" and dates it 1862; identifies the first owner as Auguin and states that it was included in Saintes 1863 (but mistakenly identifies it as no. 113 in the exhibition, rather than no. 97).
Pierre Courthion. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985, p. 90, no. 312, ill.
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. The Most Arrogant Man in France: Gustave Courbet and the Nineteenth-Century Media Culture. Princeton, 2007, p. 147, fig. 110, states that it was probably painted in the Saintonge region and that it was once owned by Auguin.
Jean-Roger Soubiran in Autour de Courbet en Saintonge. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Échevinage, Saintes. [Bordeaux], 2007, pp. 58, 94, 110, mentions "Ruisseau, vallée de Fontcouverte; étude" (see Saintes 1863), noting that it was a gift from the artist to Auguin (possibly this work).
A photograph of this painting is included in a collection of photographs of Courbet's work compiled by Eugène Druet ("Oeuvre de Gustave Courbet," vol. 1, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris).