Portrait of Oudot, the Artist's Grandfather
Gustave Courbet ( French, 1819 - 1877 )
- c. 1847
Robert Fernier, an expert in the art of Gustave Courbet, has noted that Courbet is not best known for his drawings, yet he was an extraordinary and very original draftsman.  As a young man, his favorite model for both his paintings and his drawings was himself, followed by other members of his immediate family—particularly his father and his three sisters, Zélie, Zoé, and Juliette.
Although the authenticity of this drawing has never been questioned, there is considerable dispute about the identity of the man in both this watercolor and the oil painting to which it has a direct relationship. The painting, now in the Musée Courbet in the painter's hometown of Ornans, has been catalogued as a portrait of Courbet's maternal grandfather, M. Oudot, and dated to 1843 on the basis of its style. Fernier noted that the painting was itself the basis for the figure on the far left of Courbet's largest composition, The Burial at Ornans (1849, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). The sitter's identification as Régis Courbet is according to one of its owners, Courbet's great-nephew Paul Reverdy.
Simply on the basis of physiognomy, Reverdy's identification seems correct. Yet, when one accepts the painting and the drawing as portraits of the artist's father, issues of chronology come into question. Fernier dates another portrait of Régis Courbet to 1844, when the painter was twenty-five and his father was forty-six, but this date seems too late in view of the tightness of the young painter's style. More believable would be a date of 1840-1842, which would place this watercolor in the late 1840s, when his father was about fifty years old.
1. Robert Fernier, La Vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet: Catalogue Raisonne, Geneva, Switzerland: Wildenstein Foundation, 1978.
Richard Brettell, Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 21.
William B. Jordan, "Gustave Courbet, 'Portrait of a Young Woman'," in Mind's Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne, eds. Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan (Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2014) 52-53.
- Both Portrait of Regis Courbet and Study of a Hand, Thistle Plants (1985.R.20) were housed in the collection of Courbet's brother-in-law and passed down to his great-grand-nephew by the mid-twentieth-century. Based on current research, it appears these two works on paper have remained together since leaving Courbet's studio.