COURBET, Gustave
(b. 1819, Ornans, d. 1877, La Tour-de-Peilz)

Burial at Ornans

Oil on canvas, 315 x 668 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Courbet had no sooner finished The Stonebreakers than he began the epic Burial at Ornans and had to invite half the village into his studio to complete it. Courbet could not reconstitute the entire scene in his studio for lack of space; there were simply too many "walk-on parts" to allow this. "Fifty life-size figures, with a background of landscape and sky, on a canvas twenty feet wide and ten feet high," he proudly announced to Champfleury; this was the format customarily used for battle-scenes. In the Salon entry registers, Courbet noted that it was "A picture of human figures, a historical record of a burial at Ornans." He had some hesitations about how to place the cortege relative to the tomb, but the definitive composition showed a country burial at the moment of leave-taking. The men, for the most part, take this fairly calmly but the grief in the women is more melodramatic, while the cure and the pallbearers wear an expression of routine detachment.