This painting, shown at the Salon of 1857, depicts the tenor Louis Gueymard in his most famous part, the title role of Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le Diable. The setting is the cavern where Robert plays dice with two servants of the devil while his father, Bertram, an evil genius, looks on. Robert sings about the dangers of lust for gold in the celebrated aria "L’or est une chimère" (Gold is but an illusion). Courbet rejected the historicizing subjects favored by many of his contemporaries. But here his embrace of the present assumed the guise of a modern theatrical piece set in the Middle Ages.
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Title:Louis Gueymard (1822–1880) as Robert le Diable
Artist:Gustave Courbet (French, Ornans 1819–1877 La Tour-de-Peilz)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:58 1/2 x 42 in. (148.6 x 106.7 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, 1919
Inscription: Signed (lower left): G. Courbet.
?Louis Gueymard, Paris (until 1867); ?Gauthier Villars, Paris (from 1867); private collection (until 1872; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, January 19, 1872, no. 23, as "Scène du jeu, dans Robert le Diable"); Adolphe Reignard, Paris (by 1878–at least 1896); Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, New York (until 1919)
Paris. Salon. June 15–?, 1857, no. 624 (as "Portrait de M. Gueymard, artiste de l'Opéra, dans le rôle de Robert-le-Diable").
Paris. Durand-Ruel. "Exposition rétrospective de tableaux et dessins des maîtres modernes," 1878, no. 35 (as "Portrait de Gueymard dans 'Robert-le-Diable'," lent by M. Reignard).
Paris. Ecole des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition des œuvres de Gustave Courbet," May 1882, no. 18 (as "Portrait de M. Gueymard, artiste de l'Opéra, dans le rôle de Robert le Diable," lent by M. Adolphe Reignard).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of the Works of Gustave Courbet," April 7–May 18, 1919, no. 8 (as "Portrait of M. Gueymard of the Opera in the Rôle of Robert le Diable," lent by Mrs. A. A. Anderson).
Baltimore Museum of Art. "An Exhibition of Paintings by Courbet," May 3–29, 1938, no. 3 (as "Gueymard in the Role of Robert le Diable").
Winnipeg Art Gallery. "European and American Paintings," January 21–February 17, 1951, no catalogue.
Paris. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais. "Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877," September 30, 1977–January 2, 1978, no. 54 (as "Portrait de Louis Gueymard").
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877," January 19–March 19, 1978, no. 51.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 22.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Paris. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais. "Gustave Courbet," October 13, 2007–January 28, 2008, no. 142.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gustave Courbet," February 27–May 18, 2008, no. 142.
Théophile Silvestre. Histoire des artistes vivants: Français et étrangers. Paris, 1856, p. 278, calls it "Portrait de M. Gueymard, l'Opéra" and considers it unfinished.
Gustave Courbet. Letter to his father. [January–February 1857?] [Fondation Jacques Doucet, Paris; published in Ref. Chu 1992], mentions that he is working on a portrait of Gueymard.
Théophile Gautier. "Salon de 1857. XV." L'artiste, n.s., 2 (September 20, 1857), p. 34.
Gauthier Villars. Letter to Gustave Courbet. July 2, 1867 [ms., Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Cabinet des Estampes, Papiers Courbet, Boite 1], thanks Courbet for helping to arrange the purchase of a painting, probably this work, from Gueymard for 1,500 francs.
Emile Durand-Gréville. Entretiens avec J.-J. Henner (May 1882) [published in "Les Amis de Gustave Courbet," no. 37, 1967, p. 15], records Henner's comments about this painting when it was exhibited in 1882.
Alexandre Estignard. Courbet: sa vie, ses oeuvres. Besançon, 1896, p. 159, lists it under 1857; as in the collection of Adolphe Reignard.
Georges Riat. Gustave Courbet peintre. Paris, 1906, pp. 149, 360.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "The Gift of a Courbet." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 14 (May 1919), pp. 112–13, ill., dates it 1856–57.
André Fontainas. Courbet. Paris, 1921, p. 71, dates it 1857.
Charles Léger. Courbet. Paris, 1925, p. 66, calls it "Le portrait du chanteur Gueymard dans le rôle de Robert le Diable".
Gustave Kahn. "Courbet." L'Art et les artistes, n.s., 15 (October 1927), p. 23, as the portrait of "le chanteur Gueynard, de l'Opèra".
Charles Léger. Courbet. Paris, 1929, p. 70.
An Exhibition of Paintings by Courbet. Exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art. Baltimore, 1938, unpaginated, no. 3, ill., dates it before 1857.
Charles Léger. Courbet et son temps (Lettres et documents inédits). Paris, 1948, pp. 62–63.
Gerstle Mack. Gustave Courbet. New York, 1951, p. 143.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 22.
Les amis de Gustave Courbet bulletin no. 31 (1964), pp. 13–14, ill.
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, p. 113, ill.
Marie-Thérèse de Forges. Autoportraits de Courbet. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1973, p. 43, suggests that "L'Homme au casque" (F212; private collection, Bergamo), a possible self portrait, was executed as a study for this picture.
Robert Fernier. La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet. Vol. 1, Peintures, 1819–1865. Lausanne, 1977, pp. 132–33, no. 213, ill., calls it "Portrait de M. Gueymard, de l'opéra"; reiterates Forges's [Ref. 1973] assertion that "L'Homme au casque" (F212) is a study for one of the background figures in this painting.
Marie-Thérèse de Forges inGustave Courbet (1819–1877). Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. London, 1978, p. 33 [French ed. 1977].
Hélène Toussaint inGustave Courbet, 1819–1877. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. London, 1978, pp. 131–32, no. 51, ill. [French ed., 1977, 146–47, no. 54, ill.], remarks that this painting "shows great skill in distinguishing Gueymard's natural expression from the others who are merely 'acting'".
Theodore Reff. "Courbet and Manet." Arts Magazine 54 (March 1980), p. 99, fig. 2, compares the pose to that of Manet's "Spanish Singer" (49.58.2) and suggests a shared ultimate source for the pose in the ancient Greek statue "Nike Unfastening her Sandal" from the Temple of Athena Nike (Athens).
Pierre Courthion. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985, pp. 84–85, no. 205, ill.
Ann Dumas in Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin. Courbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, p. 109, compares it to "La Signora Adela Guerrero, Spanish Dancer" (1851; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels), calling it the only other depiction of a theatrical performer in Courbet's work.
Rae Becker in Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin. Courbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, p. 215, compares it to the drawing "Pierrot and the Black Arm" (1856; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), made for the premiere of a verse-pantomime play called "Le Bras Noir".
Klaus Herding. Courbet: To Venture Independence. New Haven, 1991, pp. 241–42 n. 13, calls its bright colors "an isolated attempt to mimic Delacroix".
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, ed. Letters of Gustave Courbet.. By Gustave Courbet. Chicago, 1992, pp. 153, 155 n. 4, fig. 30, publishes Courbet [1857?].
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 424, ill.
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. 42, 198–99, no. 22, ill. (color and black and white).
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. The Most Arrogant Man in France: Gustave Courbet and the Nineteenth-Century Media Culture. Princeton, 2007, pp. 46, 60, 62, 180–81 n. 7, fig. 40 (color), calls it "Portrait of M. Gueymard, Tenor at the Opéra, in the Role of Robert le Diable, [Singing] 'Yes, Gold Is a Dream'" and dates it 1856–57; comments that it "is situated halfway between the traditional actor's portrait and popular pictures of theatrical scenes," noting its closeness to Romantic history painting and "degree of action and narrative content unusual for Courbet".
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 55, 233, no. 52, ill. (color and black and white).
Ségolène Le Men. Courbet. Paris, 2007, p. 229.
Laurence des Cars inGustave Courbet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 60 [French ed., Paris, 2007].
Kathryn Calley Galitz inGustave Courbet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, pp. 308–9, no. 142, ill. (color) [French ed., Paris, 2007].
Henri Loyrette. Degas: A New Vision. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, 2016, p. 261 n. 237, notes that its sale at the Hôtel Drouot in January 1872 may have spurred Degas to complete "The Ballet from 'Robert le Diable'" (The Met 29.100.552).
Giacomo Meyerbeer (né Jakob Meyer Beer, 1791–1863) composed the opera Robert le Diable in 1831. A painting by Degas in The Met's collection (29.100.552) depicts the ballet from this opera. Nadar (Felix Tournachon) included a caricature of this portrait in his Nadar Jury au Salon de 1857, 1857, p. 14.
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