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Peasant Girl with a Scarf

Peasant Girl with a Scarf, c. 1849

Gustave Courbet
French, 1819-1877
Oil on canvas
23-5/8 x 28-3/4 in. (60 x 73 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Courbet was at the origins of the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting. Eschewing the angels and make-believe of academic history painting in favor of “objects that the artist can see and touch,” Courbet devoted much of his early career to the inhabitants of his native Franche-Comté, a region rocked in the mid-19th century by the mechanization and modernization of farming. Here a peasant girl, flushed with sun (or perhaps desire), appears in uncomfortable close-up, gazing into the distance, where a man retreats into the shadows. The picture’s provincial subject and the willfully awkward relationship between figure and landscape would have discomfited many contemporary Parisian viewers, who regarded such choices as not only aesthetically radical but politically radical as well. “Realism,” as Courbet insisted, “is essentially democratic.”

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