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Vase of Lilacs, Roses, and Tulips, 1863

Gustave Courbet

French, 1819-1877
Oil on canvas
25-5/8 x 21-3/8 in. (65.1 x 54.3 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
M.1979.24.P
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

There were two periods during his rather publicly oriented career when Gustave Courbet turned to the more introspective practice of floral still-life painting. The first occurred during the middle of the 1850s, and the second, far more sustained effort, took place from 1862–63, when Courbet was invited to stay with the progressive collector and wealthy landowner Étienne Baudry. Baudry’s estate near Saintes, close to the western coast of France, housed gardens with local plants unfamiliar to the artist from the Franch-Comté, a mountainous region in the east. Baudry’s estate also boasted a number of extraordinary greenhouses with exotic varietals from every season. It was in this atmosphere essentially surrounded by flowers that Courbet created this exuberant still life. Purply-white lilacs, pale yellow roses, burnt orange tulips and small red poppies burst forth from the canvas. Their lightness of color and thick, painterly delineations thrust them forward, a sense of movement that is reinforced by their placement in a dark, non-descript background. Although Courbet was best known for his rabble-rousing populist spirit, in these floral still lifes we are given a hint of the bourgeois tastes that the artist unquestionably enjoyed.

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