A few rays of sunlight break through the canopy of this tranquil forest, reflecting off the surface of a small pool and the nearby trees. A hind is visible at the water’s edge, head bent down to drink, while a stag rests on the grass in the foreground.
Although he was regarded as an accomplished landscape painter in his lifetime, Courbet became better known for his figurative paintings – yet landscapes make up more than two-thirds of his body of work. His approach to landscape painting was incredibly modern. He moved away from the traditional use of landscapes as a backdrop for biblical, mythological or historical events, instead using them as an opportunity to depict a feeling of vitality, immediacy and freedom of expression. To achieve this effect he used a variety of tools to apply paint, from a palette knife to his own thumbs.
In this tranquil forest a stag rests on the grass while a hind drinks from a pool. A few rays of sunlight reflect off the surface of the water and the nearby trees. The effect of dense foliage, which casts shadows on the scene below, has been achieved by Courbet’s use of a stippled brush to paint in the mass of leaves.
Courbet used a range of tools to apply paint, from small and thick brushes to a palette knife; he even used his thumbs. These techniques went against the formal conventions of the French art academies, but they meant that Corubet’s paintings had a rough finish that expressed the spontaneity he wished to capture.
Courbet painted numerous forest scenes. Most of them show the woods of the Franche-Comté, but some depict the forest of Fontainebleau, 60 km south-east of Paris. His approach to landscape painting was very modern. Traditionally, landscapes were used as the backdrop to biblical, mythological or historical events, but Courbet chose to capture the natural world in its own right, in all its vitality and immediacy.
While Courbet would often paint outdoors rather than in his studio, the placement of the stag and the hind suggest that this is an imagined scene, made up from multiple studies of the forest and its wildlife. He may have been particularly drawn to this type of picture as he was an avid hunter.
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