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Apples, Pears, and Primroses on a Table, 1871-1872

Gustave Courbet

French, 1819-1877
Oil on canvas
23-1/2 x 28-3/4 in. (59.7 x 73 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
M.1999.2.1.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

In an 1872 letter, Courbet’s sister Zoë described this picture as “a large painting, a dozen pears, apples, etc., heaped pleasingly on a table . . . Gustave is enchanted with it. He says that he never achieved such gracious effects of color.” It is among the finest still lifes Courbet painted, describing with poignant sensuality the irregular form, the scarred, lustrous skin of each fruit. But the picture is more than an exercise in “gracious effects of color”: in the lower right-hand corner, Courbet signed and dated it, adding the inscription “Sainte-Pélagie.” These words refer to the prison where the artist was detained in 1871 for his participation in a popular uprising known as the Commune.

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