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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

After Gustave Courbet
French, 1819–1877

Portrait of Hector Berlioz

Etching, about 1850
Music Fund, 1955.45

When Gustave Courbet finished painting the portrait of composer Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) on which this print is based, the composer was not pleased and refused it. In the original oil painting, Berlioz appears rather melancholic with his face emerging from a dark background. Courbet had done nothing to improve the looks of Berlioz; indeed, the gaunt depiction made Berlioz appear much older than his 45 years. But, it is possible that what really made Berlioz unhappy was the fact that Courbet insisted on singing his songs for the Maestro. As recounted by George Kial, “[Courbet] took it into his head to sing his songs, ‘tuneless laments’ … and to offer them as examples of popular music. At first Berlioz thought it was a joke; then, realizing that to Courbet it was nothing of the sort, he took him for an idiot.”