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The Wave (La Vague)

Gustave Courbet

European Art

This is one of several paintings focusing on cresting waves that Gustave Courbet made in Normandy. The paintings were radical for their anti-picturesque subject and their technique. Referencing his use of a palette knife to slather paint on the canvas in thick strokes, some critics thought the artist’s waves were too solid—too much like undisguised paint—to represent water. Paul Cézanne, who admired Courbet, noted that he “slapped paint on the way a plasterer slaps on stucco.” Popular caricaturists lampooned Courbet’s method.

Author Guy de Maupassant described witnessing Courbet at work on one of his wave paintings in his Étretat studio in 1869: “In a great room a fat, dirty, greasy man was spreading patches of white paint onto a big bare canvas with a kitchen knife. . . . He went and pressed his face against the windowpane to look at the storm. . . . . On the mantelpiece was a bottle of cider. . . . Every now and then Courbet would drink a mouthful and then go back to his painting.”
MEDIUM Oil on canvas
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES ca. 1869
    DIMENSIONS 25 3/4 x 34 15/16 x 3in. (65.4 x 88.7 x 7.6cm) frame: 32 1/4 x 41 x 3 in. (81.9 x 104.1 x 7.6 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Signed lower left: "G. Courbet."
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mrs. Horace O. Havemeyer
    PROVENANCE Prior to 1882, provenance not yet documented; before 1882, acquired by Emil Monteaux of Paris, France; March 10, 1884, sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Vente Monteaux lot 11; between 1884 and 1902, provenance not yet documented; before 1902, possibly acquired by Ernst May of Paris; before 1902, acquired by Georges Lutz of Paris; May 26-27, 1902, purchased at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Georges Lutz sale lot 39, by M. Prayer; between 1902 and 1912, provenance not yet documented; by 1912, acquired by Jean Dollfus of Paris; March 2, 1912, purchased at Galerie George Petit, Paris, Vente Dollfus lot 24 by Henry Osborne Havemeyer and Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer of New York, NY through Durand-Ruel, New York; 1929, inherited from Louisine Havemeyer by Horace Havemeyer and Doris A. Dick Havemeyer (Mrs. Horace Havemeyer); January 8, 1942, gift of Doris Havemeyer to the Brooklyn Museum.
    Provenance FAQ
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Gustave Courbet (French, 1819–1877). The Wave (La Vague), ca. 1869. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 34 15/16 x 3in. (65.4 x 88.7 x 7.6cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Horace O. Havemeyer, 41.1256 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 41.1256_PS9.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 41.1256_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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