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Item   Title MB Now at Next bid Bids New bid Max bid  
554   Gustave Courbet  $500 $666 $733 4 You must login to place a bid.

#554 - Gustave Courbet

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The French government attempts to seize the self-exiled artist’s paintings as payment for the Vendome Column


French painter (1819–1877) who was scorned for his rigid classical outlook. He was imprisoned and fined for his part in the destruction of the Vendome Column and later fled to Switzerland. ALS in French, signed “G. Courbet,” two pages on two adjoining sheets, 5.25 x 8.5, July 2, 1874, Tour de Peilz [Switzerland]. Letter to friend and dealer Paul Pia, in full (translated): “As you wish I am giving you this painting at the price that you offer but it is rather long in my situation. Above all to reduce as an advance what I owe you up to now on that purchase cost and on the Margerot sale. Concerning the Oran painting assert against seizure that you own this painting, and give me a letter in exchange. I just wrote to Margerot, I wait until you have this money brought to me while I am telling him that he pays me integrally. I owe him clothing. My lawyer won on the seizures that had been done dubiously now I will pay the column at my leisure, they are going to make new ones, but they can search many things at your house and ones of friends. You saw that Felix Pyat has restored honors by knocking over the Vendome Column on his own it is fine with me.” A short ink notation in another hand is written at the top of the first page, indicating that the letter regards “purchase of painting the Bridge of St. Sulpice…fr[ancs] 220 or 27 thousands.” In fine condition, with a bit of scattered light toning and foxing.

After the toppling of the Vendome Column during the Paris Commune in 1871, which was spearheaded by Gustave Courbet, president of the Federation of Artists and elected member of the Commune, the artist was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 500 francs for his role in the destruction. Two years later, when newly elected president Mac-Mahon decided to resurrect the monument, Courbet was again singled out and condemned to pay the expenses of rebuilding, estimated at 323,000 francs, in yearly installments of 10,000 francs. Unable to pay, he exiled himself to Switzerland, where he would live out his final years. To avoid the seizure of his paintings as payment to the state, Courbet arranged dummy sales of his works through fellow exiled Frenchman Paul Pia, who had opened an art supply store and gallery in Geneva. Pia featured a prominent display of Courbet’s work, frequently selling pieces on commission (and occasionally without the permission of the artist). A remarkable letter regarding the consequences of his most famous act of destruction, leading to sneaky sales and “dubious seizures” of his work for years to come. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.

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