At the Salon of 1850–51, Courbet exhibited The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair along with The Stonebreakers (destroyed) and the Burial at Ornans (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). All three works present scenes of rural life in Courbet's native Ornans on the heroic, large scale previously reserved for history painting. Critics were shocked by both their scale as well as Courbet's handling of the subjects, deriding the ugliness of his "rude and broad style."
This image of peasants returning home to the small village of Flagey was part of what Courbet called his "highway" series, which also included The Stonebreakers. The figure astride the horse in the center has traditionally been identified as Courbet's father, Régis Courbet, who was mayor of Flagey. "This is the Franche-Comté peasant in all his natural sincerity," wrote the philosopher Proudhon.
This painting, executed in 1855, is a replica of the original. Courbet, dissatisfied with the perspective, repainted the work and enlarged the canvas by some twelve inches along the right side. He also reworked the present canvas, as evidenced by his shift of the woman with the basket on her head from the right side of the composition (where traces of the basket are visible) toward the center.
Gustave Courbet (French, 1819–1877)
The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair
Oil on canvas; 82 5/8 x 108 5/8 in. (210 x 276 cm)
Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, Besançon