McMullen Museum Will Present ‘Courbet: Mapping Realism’ Sept. 1

Gustave Courbet (1819–77), “Woman with Mirror,” circa 1860, oil on canvas, private collection.

CHESTNUT HILL, MASS. —  The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College will present an exclusive exhibition that maps the travels and influence on foreign artists of one of France’s most prolific and innovative painters: Gustave Courbet, the leader of the Realist movement.

“Courbet: Mapping Realism” will open September 1 and run through December 8. On Sunday, September 1, from 7 to 9:30 pm, all are invited to a free opening reception with a special evening viewing at the museum in Devlin Hall, Room 101.

It expands upon this summer’s exhibition, “Gustave Courbet and Belgium at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.” That exhibition examined the role played by Belgium in Courbet’s development and the positive response by Belgian artists and collectors to the bold social commentary in his work.

“Courbet: Mapping Realism” comprising 49 works, includes additional paintings by Courbet in American collections to tell the story of his reception here. Also on view are choice paintings by Courbet’s American contemporaries, including Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, William Morris Hunt, Eastman Johnson, and John La Farge. These works reveal the role he played in shaping American painting.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to be collaborating again with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium to bring a groundbreaking exhibition that ‘maps’ the reception and influence in both Belgium and America of one of France’s most prolific and innovative artists of the Nineteenth Century. The exhibition provides an opportunity to see many outstanding paintings never before on public display this side of the Atlantic,” says Nancy Netzer, McMullen Museum director and professor of art history.

A pioneer of Modernism, Courbet is known for his innovative depictions of social themes as well as landscapes and portraits. Born in the city of Ornans, he became one of the most unconventional painters of his time, rejecting both academic art and romantic idealism in favor of realist depictions of society and fresh, natural landscapes. A free spirit and frequent traveler, Courbet found particular success in Belgium, where he played a pivotal role in the Belgian Realist movement.

Organized by the McMullen Museum and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the exhibition is curated by Jeffery Howe, Boston College professor of art history, and Dominique Marechal, curator of Nineteenth Century art at the Royal Museums.

“This exhibit provides a unique opportunity to see Courbet’s art in the context of both Belgian Realism and art from New England of the same era,” according to Howe. “Using the metaphor of a map, we can trace the impact of Courbet’s pivotal transformation of European art and parallels in American art. The rich collections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium confirm Courbet’s importance in European art, and the generous loans from museums and outstanding private collections in New England and New York offer new insights into the development of Realism in America.”

“The present exhibition not only sheds new light on the six paintings by Courbet conserved in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, but also on the role played by this major figure of modernity in the development of Belgium’s Fealist movement from the 1850s to 1870s,” said Marechal.

This exhibition first traces Courbet’s influence on Belgian artists and then moves across the Atlantic to chart his impact on American painters, including William Morris Hunt, John La Farge and Winslow Homer. While Courbet’s paintings were often controversial in France, in America — particularly New England — artists responded warmly to his paintings of natural landscapes and found inspiration in his direct observation of nature.

According to organizers, visitors to the exhibition will discover that Boston’s private collectors and the Allston Club, an independent artists’ association, both collected and displayed Courbet’s landscapes. An early purchase by Isabella Stewart Gardner, “A View across a River,” is among the works in the exhibition.

A volume of essays by American and Belgian scholars accompanies the exhibition.

McMullen Museum is on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus at 140 Commonwealth Avenue. For information, 617-552-8100 or www.bc.edu/artmuseum.

Gustave Courbet (1819–77), “Landscape at Ornans,” circa 1855, oil on canvas, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. —J. Geleyns/Ro scan photo.

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