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Gustave Courbet : “Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase” (1862)

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Gustave Courbet, who had previously painted less than a handful of flower pictures, took up the genre enthusiastically during a stay in western France in 1862. Intending to visit his friend Etienne Baudry for two weeks, he arrived at the garden enthusiast’s château in May and remained in the area for eleven months. With his friend’s encouragement, Courbet explored flower painting using Baudry’s extensive gardens, greenhouses, and library of botanical books. He painted about twenty flower pictures and remarked to a friend, “I am coining money out of flowers.”

Courbet had visited Holland in 1847 and his exposure there to Dutch flower painting is evident. His arrangement shares the exuberant spontaneity and abundance of Dutch artist Jan Van Huysum’s Vase of Flowers. Like his Netherlandish forebears, Courbet chose flowers that bloom at different times of the year: lilies, roses, gladioli, stock, asters, ipomoeas, poppies, and others. While he typically eschewed allegory, Courbet may have also followed the Dutch practice of using ephemeral flowers to suggest the transitory nature of life and human happiness. Unlike Van Huysum and other Dutch painters known for their intricately detailed technique, Courbet used broad brushstrokes and often spread his thick paint with a palette knife.

(Text courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program, CC BY 4.0).

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