Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Bay with Cliffs (ca. 1869)

Gustave Courbet: A Bay with Cliffs

In 1869, Gustave Courbet painted A Bay with Cliffs. Five years earlier, the photographer Louis- Alphonse Davanne photographed cliffs and a nearby bay in Étretat, the Manneporte. Though the differences between their respective representations of the awe-inspiring coastal landscape in Normandy were vast, the painter and the photographer found that this small stretch of France’s northern coast offered a rich set of possibilities for the production of a new form of picture making, which would transform the visual arts over the latter part of the nineteenth century. Courbet’s painting was part of an evolving project shared by many nineteenth-century French painters that sought to challenge the traditions of art making with a new visual vocabulary based on subjective experience.

In A Bay with Cliffs, the rules of perspective and symmetry are thrown out in favor of a landscape that cuts off the traditional horizon line with a bold, rocky cliff rendered with a thick layer of paint. Courbet eschewed traditional landscape painting in favor of conveying the material immediacy of his natural surroundings. Normandy, with its dramatic coastline and soaring cliffs, provided the painter with an ideal location to explore new possibilities of landscape painting. [Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874. University of Michigan Museum of Art (pdf)]

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