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Gustave Courbet, 'View of Lac Léman', 1874

Key facts
Full title View of Lac Léman
Artist Gustave Courbet
Artist dates 1819 - 1877
Date made 1874
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 38 × 55.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir Robert Hart, Bt, 1971
Inventory number NG6396
Location Room 45
Collection Main Collection
View of Lac Léman
Gustave Courbet

Turbulent grey clouds roll across the sky. The lake beneath it is calm, but a storm threatens. It’s evening, and a tiny sailing boat in the distance is little more than a smudge on the horizon against the vivid orange and gold of the dying sun. Soft red reflections streak the surface of the water.

In July 1873 Courbet fled France for Switzerland for political reasons. He settled on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and painted several views of it, many at sunset. During his exile, his property was seized and his friends and family put under surveillance. The contents of his Paris studio were sold at a public auction in his absence. The man who had taken Paris by storm – of whom it was written, ‘It was as if a whirlwind had roared through the gallery rattling the windows and shattering the glass’ – died almost penniless and in exile.

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