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Cliff at Étretat, the Porte d' Aval, 1869

Gustave Courbet

French, 1819-1877
Oil on canvas
25-3/4 x 32 in. (65.4 x 81.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Although Gustave Courbet became famous in the mid-century for his large-scale paintings dedicated to a realism rooted in left-wing politics, later in his career, the artist turned to landscape. A natural course for an artist deeply connected to his rural roots well outside of Paris, these landscapes and seascapes are as much about the physical qualities of the paint as they are about the physical qualities of the scene. Marine, for example, is an exquisite rendering of sky, sea and sand, in which the paint—often dragged across or scraped from the surface with a palette knife—assumes the qualities of the very landscape Courbet has chosen to represent. This technique is also found in Cliff at Étretat, The Porte d’Aval, where the solidity of the unusual cliff formations attracted Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin and Henri Matisse, among others. The craggy rocks, asperity of the sand and striation of the cliffs in the distance against the strikingly smooth sky speak directly to the profound link between the Frenchman’s artistic approach and his native landscape.

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