Vue d’'une mer agitée près d’une falaise
(Gustave Courbet)


Courbet spent the months of September, October, and most of November 1865 on the Channel coast at Trouville, and the following year he returned to stay from mid -September to mid-October with the Duc de Choiseul at his house in the closely neighboring town of Deauville. Though he had briefly visited the Normandy coast in I841 and again much later in 1859, the 1865 trip was the first real painting campaign in this region. It was during this time that he made his first extended series of marine paintings, and invented his own particular motifs in the developing genre of contemporary painting of the coast and the sea.

When Courbet first met Boudin in 1859 in Honfleur, he was considerably impressed by the beach and sky studies that he saw in his studio, works that Baudelaire would also praise in his Salon of 1859. These studies may have sharpened Courbet’s awareness of the tremendous importance of the sky in the painting of the Channel coast, and the differences between this northern sky and that of the Mediterrranean coast where had worked occasionally in the mid 1850s. In the course of the 1865 stay at Trouville he developed the palette, the compositions, and the paint handling that give his representations of the Normandy coast, particularly those of the Trouville-Deauville years, their distinctive characteristics.

Some of these – the Low Tides – are almost abstract images of the horizontal relations between sand, sea and sky. Others use a similar palette and facture to represent the activity, at high tide, of the meeting place between waves and shore. The present painting is one of the latter, among which there are different types of weather and topography. Here the sea at the horizon is a matte gray and the sky is filled with cloud forms, but the complex, textured mixture of mauves, lilacs, whites and paler blues of the sky generate light, as do the broken whites of the foam as it comes in to make pools of putty and rust pigment in the sand. All of this is conjured up not by literal description but by scumbled strokes of openly layered paint, the laying on of which is at once energetic and delicate. This is the same kind of facture that Courbet had developed for his landscapes of the Jura, where it can be seen particularly in the representations of the waters and banks of the river Loue.

This painting has evidently long been in private hands, out of the way of the sale rooms and exhibitions and critical notice that provide provenance documentation. It is not dated by the artist (which is frequently the case), and I would date it to either l865 or 1866 rather than to his Channel campaign of l869, where he was more focussed on stormy seas, single waves, and the steep local cliffs. 1865 seems more likely because of the longer stay that year and the documented fact in his letters from Trouville that he was meeting important people and getting requests not only for portraits but for seascapes, requests that would continue after his return to Paris.

The Vue d’un mer agitée près d’une falaise will be included in the critical catalogue of Courbet’s paintings currently in preparation.

Sarah Faunce
25 January,2001

24 x 31 7/8 ins. 61 x 81 cm.
Oil on canvas

Provenance: Private collection, France


Literature: To be included in the forthcoming Courbet: Catalogue Raisonné by
Sarah Faunce. To be included in the supplement to the Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by M. Fernier


Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘The Gallic Prospect’, 1999

Where is It?
Acquired by The Princeton University Museum 2008 from The Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Realism to Impressionism - 1840-1900
2001-European Paintings-From 1600-1917.
Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Futurism.

(Click on image above)
Price band
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