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Gustave Courbet

French, 1819–1877

La Source de la Loue (The Source of the Loue), ca. 1864

Oil on canvas
42 1/4 x 54 1/8 inches (107.3 x 137.5 cm)
George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 1959

Gustave Courbet believed that an artist should only paint things from his or her own experience. He once said, "I cannot paint an angel because I have never seen one." This philosophy, which became known as Realism, denied him the opportunity to paint historical events, religious scenes, or imaginary compositions, leaving only the world and the people around him.

Courbet was born in the French town of Ornans, located in a region called the Franche-Comté, near the Swiss border. Although he lived in Paris, the artist remained very attached to his birthplace, painting the area and its people numerous times. The Franche-Comté is an area filled with natural curiosities; in fact, the area’s Jura mountains were the origin of the term Jurassic, which was coined in the early nineteenth century to refer to the period of the dinosaurs. One of the area’s natural wonders is the source of the Loue River, which goes on to flow through Ornans. The Loue is subterranean until this point, and already quite large when it emerges from the immense grotto. Courbet was fascinated by the geologic forces inherent in the site—forces that are somewhat mysterious because they originate underground.

Related Lesson Plan

Exploring Art and the Senses (For Grades K–12)

Related ActivitIES

Activities for Families (PDF)


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