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Jan. 27 Art Minute: Gustave Courbet, The Trellis

One Each, Toledo Museum of Art, Still Life
Gustave Courbet (French,1819–1877), The Trellis. Oil on canvas, 1862. Toledo Museum of Art, Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1950.309

Summer flowers are the heart of this painting. Full-blown, they surge across the surface, engulfing the young woman whose dress is even printed with miniature flowers. Gustave Courbet, famous at the time for his confrontational images of peasant life and dramatic landscapes, led a personal campaign to reform art. He declared that artists must represent contemporary life, not imitate the past. This painting of a woman arranging cut flowers on an outdoor trellis reflects Courbet’s Realist manifesto: it presents the young woman not as a classical nymph or allegorical figure, but as a pretty model in contemporary dress. It also elevates flower painting—traditionally considered low on the hierarchy of artistic genres—to a grand scale, the blooms dominating the composition.

This work is currently on view in the exhibition ONE EACH: Still Lifes by Pissarro, Cézanne, Manet & Friends