Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Gustave Courbet
Torso of a Woman
Metropolitan Museum
Gift of Louisine Havemeyer

In her art-collecting memoir Sixteen to Sixty, Louisine Havemeyer spends time reminiscing about the painting above by Gustave Courbet. Mrs.Havemeyer called it La Branche de Cerisier Anglais. The Metropolitan Museum, now in possession of the painting, uses the title Torso of a Woman in some places and Nude with Flowering Branch in other places.

"Is that for sale?" I almost gasped, and gave an order to send it to our home so Mr. Havemeyer could see it. I was disappointed when my husband looked at the picture, for I saw that he disapproved of it, and I know that we had agreed not to buy any nudes.

"Surely you are not going to buy that," he said.

"I should like to," I answered.

"I shouldn't do it, if I were you," he remarked shortly and left me.

I kept the picture for a day or two, feeling firmly defiant, and then I returned it to Durand-Ruel. A few days later Mr. Havemeyer said to me:

"What did you do about that Courbet?"

"I returned it to  Durand-Ruel," I replied.

"I knew you wouldn't want it," he said, quite pleased.

"But I do want it," I had to answer. "I want it very much! It is one of the loveliest pictures I have ever seen, and if I had it I would keep it right there in my closet and not hang it in the gallery at all, but just go there and look at it all alone by myself."

The next day the Courbet came home with word from Durand-Ruel that "Mr. Havemeyer had ordered it sent home to Mrs. Havemeyer."  

An editorial note in Sixteen to Sixty states that "Courbet's Torso of a Woman was purchased by the Havemeyers from Durand-Ruel, New York, on October 19, 1892 for $1,800. It was their first nude by the artist, but the fourth Courbet acquired."

Gustave Courbet
Woman in the Waves
Metropolitan Museum
Gift of Louisine Havemeyer

"We bought another lovely picture of the same model, a strange combination of sea and nude painted in 1868. "La Femme a la Vague" it is called, a woman sitting in the surf with her arms clasped over her head; she braces her back against a rock as the sea foam froths about her bosom, she looks toward the approaching waves while we enjoy the splendid sea which rolls beyond, and a tiny boat on the distant horizon impresses us with the vastness of the ocean. How often have I heard pseudo-artists inquire with the tone of their voices pointing interrogation points as a musician would handle his staccato:

"Isn't that arm slightly out of drawing?"

"Surely," someone once answered such a question. "But you see, it is unusual to find an elbow in a marine." 

The editorial note amplifies: "Courbet's Woman in the Waves, the Havemeyer's second Courbet nude, was purchased from Durand-Ruel on January 30, 1893 for $5,000."