Portrait of H. J. van Wisselingh

Gustave Courbet
French (1819–1877)
19th century
Oil on panel
22 1/2 x 18 1/8 in. (57.2 x 46 cm) Framed: 31 3/8 x 27 1/2 x 4 in. (79.7 x 69.9 x 10.2 cm)
AP 1984.04
Currently On View
Courbet was born at Ornans, near the Swiss border of France. After he went to Paris in 1840, he evolved a vigorous Realism with profound and influential philosophical and political implications. Already in the Salon of 1846, Courbet’s work was noticed by the Dutch art dealer H. J. van Wisselingh, who bought two paintings and presumably commissioned this portrait. Van Wisselingh also invited Courbet to visit Holland the following year so that he could study Rembrandt. Rembrandt’s art was a touchstone for Courbet—as is evident in this portrait, in which deep shadows obscure physical fact and at the same time suggest poetic insights into the melancholy of the sitter and his world. Courbet’s emulation of Rembrandt and other seventeenth-century Dutch masters put him at odds with his most powerful contemporaries in the French Academy, for whom the idealizing art of the Italian Renaissance was paradigmatic. Courbet’s relentless and outspoken disregard for academic principles, and the example of paintings like this Rembrandtesque portrait of a Dutch tradesman, quickly set the stage for a sweeping revolution in mid-nineteenth-century art. In concert with his extraordinary friend the poet Charles Baudelaire, Courbet advocated a popular art based on modern life, its dark sides included, inspiring the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to find poetry in the prose of everyday activities and locales—as Rembrandt had done before them.


Portrait of H. J. van Wisselingh is painted on a wooden panel that had been prepared for easel painting with a flawlessly smooth gessoed surface. What is unusual is that Courbet chose to paint on the reverse. This side of the panel was left unfinished and rough, with a regular series of vertical ripples, the marks of a plane used to prepare the panel by hand. The artist may have been trying to approximate the look of an aged panel, since he was emulating Rembrandt in this work. Together with the bold brushwork, the irregularities of the panel help to create a richly textured surface.


Commissioned by Hendrik Jan van Wisselingh [11 February 1816-4 March 1884] in 1846; by inheritance to Mlle. N. van Wisselingh, Amsterdam; by inheritance to Elbert Jan van Wisselingh [11 November 1848-3 November 1912], son of Hendrik Jan van Wisselingh, Amsterdam. Dr. Hans Alfred Wetzlar [-c.1977], Amsterdam, 1949; purchased 1 November 1949 by (Reid & Lefevre Gallery, London) from (E. J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam); purchased 8 December 1949 by Baron John Jacob Astor [20 May 1886-1971], Edenbridge, Kent, from (Reid & Lefevre Gallery, London); by inheritance to Gavin, 2nd Baron Astor of Hever [1 June 1918-1984], Edenbridge, Kent, by 1971, until 1978. Private collection, Switzerland. Private collection, London. (Colnaghi, New York); purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1984.