Gustave Courbet: Beach in Normandy
During 1869 Courbet had worked along the beaches in Normandy, painting sketches that he later used to produce a number of finished paintings in the studio: "Did I ever earn my bread and butter," he wrote a friend, "I painted twenty seascapes...." Years later, while in exile in Switzerland, he painted more beach scenes, perhaps returning to the same sketches or recalling the landscape from memory.
Recent scholarship suggests that this painting is probably one of the later group. The light and air lack the kind of vivid freshness of Courbet's work done while he was still under his immediate impression of a place. The rocky cliff seems generalized rather than defined by its strong highlights. Still, its bulk attracts our attention; our eyes are drawn by the sheer tactile mass of the pigments there. In many places Courbet painted not with a brush, but with a palette knife. His rough technique, like the unsentimentalized peasant subjects he pioneered, scandalized the art establishment - and helped galvanize the bold style being adopted by younger painters like Manet. Fiercely proud of his rural roots and his country-bred vigor, Courbet retained a forthright and physical connection to the world. He painted the concrete, he said, and he gave what he saw actual physical dimension on his canvas. [National Gallery of Art]