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Sotheby's to sell painting by Gustave Courbet; In French private family collection since direct acquistion
Gustave Courbet, Le Ruisseau de Plaisir-Fontaine dans La Vallee du Puits Noir. Oil on canvas, 81 by 100 cm., 31⅞ by 39⅜in. Estimate: 200,000 GBP-300,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announced that the company will present for sale a painting by Gustave Courbet never before offered on the market. Le Ruisseau de Plaisir-Fontaine, dans la vallée du Puits Noir, painted in 1864, comes to auction from a French Private Collection and its provenance can be traced unbroken through the same family to the artist, and a sitter for Courbet’s masterpiece L’Enterrement à Ornans (Burial at Ornans). Claude-Hélène-Prosper Teste (1801 – 1869) was Mayor of Ornans and a friend of Courbet, and the first owner of the present work. The painting will be offered in Sotheby’s sale of 19th Century European Paintings in London on 20 November 2012 with an estimate of £200,000-300,000.

Commenting on the painting, Pascale Pavageau, Head of Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings and Drawings, Sotheby’s Paris, said: “A most evocative subject, an exceptional pristine provenance, and outstanding condition make this painting by Courbet especially desirable. The artist has chosen a particularly contemplative view point of a location that he loved, it was acquired by the Mayor of Ornans at the time, and it has remained in excellent condition, unlined – a rare thing after 150 years – and largely untouched. A wonderful time capsule, that it is a privilege to be offering for sale in London.”

The Puits-Noir is the name of a secluded spot outside Ornans where the Brême river meanders gently through a narrow and luxuriantly verdant rocky gorge. It was one of Courbet’s favourite places to paint. The composition shows a hidden womb-like landscape, atemporal, steeped in mystery and devoid of all human and animal presence. The subject held a deeply personal meaning for Courbet, transporting him back to his roots and his youth in Ornans. Le Ruisseau de Plaisir-Fontaine, dans la vallée du Puits Noir is introspective, intimate and personal. The motif provided Courbet with the subject of the painting which launched his career as a landscape painter, Le Ruisseau de Puits-Noir, vallée de la Loue, exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1855. Courbet went on to paint several variations during the 1860s.

In contrast to the absence of human presence in the painting by Courbet, La Marseillaise by Jean Béraud (1849 – 1935) is a spirited work which epitomises Parisian life at the height of the Belle Époque. Depicting Bastille Day in 1880, it shows workers, artists, students and shopkeepers chanting the Marsellaise as they march from the Place de la Bastille west along the tricolore-draped rue St. Antoine. The painting brings together fascinating details evocative of the period. The front rank of marchers represents the types of people rebuilding France after the Franco-Prussian War. On the left the older man in the long tan coat is perhaps a syndicaliste or labour leader, flanked by men and boys in the short blue smocks still worn by tradesmen in France today. In the centre are two men in black who, by their unconventional dress, appear to be artists or writers. One wears a red cummerbund instead of a belt, while the other sport a flamboyant pink tie and a tall hat typical of the dandyism and Bohemianism in French art circles in 1880. Between them walks a pregnant woman, representing the future of France. While to the right, three teenagers of differing persuasions – a lycéen with a leftist republican viewpoint, a military cadet with a more moderate-conservative view, and a church student with the Ultra-Catholic party – stride united towards tomorrow.

Jean Béraud’s paintings were so synonymous with the Paris Belle Époque that at the turn of the century a scene of Parisian life came to be known as a ‘Béraud’. He adored Paris in all its guises, under all weather conditions, and the people who populated the city. He was beloved by the capital’s horse cab drivers and was one of their favourite fares. Making sketches on the spot, it was not unusual to see Béraud sitting inside a cab parked at the corner of a street for innumerable hours, in his hunger for verisimilitude. La Marseillaise comes to the market from a European Private Collection with an estimate of £500,000-700,000.

*Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium.

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