Gustave Courbet writes to Victor Hugo. Persecution and hope. One of his most beautiful letters.

G. Courbet, lettre autographe signée à V. Hugo.


Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877), painter. Autograph letter signed ” Gustave Courbet “, Salins, 28 November 1864, to the ” cher et grand poète[Victor Hugo]. 3 pages and a half in-8°.

Magnificent letter addressed to the great poet in exile in Guernsey. Courbet complains of the persecutions he suffers against his art and his person, concluding, however, with a note of poetry and hope.

G. Courbet, lettre autographe signée à V. Hugo.

G. Courbet, lettre autographe signée à V. Hugo.

G. Courbet, lettre autographe signée à V. Hugo.

G. Courbet, lettre autographe signée à V. Hugo.


Dear and great Poet

You said it, I have the fierce independence of the mountaineer ; I think they can boldly put on my grave, as my friend Buchon says: Courbet without kowtows [“courbettes” in french, word game with “Courbet]” .

Better than any other, Poet, you know that our country is fortunately in France the reservoir of these men disturb sometimes like the terrain to which they belong., but often also carved in granite.

Don’t exaggerate my value, the little I did was hard to do, when I arrived and my friends, you had just absorbed the whole world, as human Caesar and in good form.

In the prime of your age, Delacroix and you did not have like me the empire to tell you, out of us no salvation. You did not have warrants against you, your mothers were not like mine dig out[un]derground in the house to remove you from the armed men.

Delacroix never saw soldiers raping his home. [,] erasing his paintings with a bucket of gasoline by order of a minister, his works were not arbitrarily kicked out of the Exhibition, his paintings did not make ridiculous chapels outside the salons of the Exhibition. The official speeches of each year did not designate him [sic] not to public animity [,] he did not have like me this pack of howling bastard dogs after him in the service of their master bastards themselves [,] the struggles were artistic, it was a matter of principle, you were not threatened with proscriptionThe pigs wanted to eat democratic art in the cradle [,] despite all the growing democratic art will eat them.

Despite the oppression that weighs on our generation [,] despite my exiled friends [,] hunted even with dogs in the forests of the Morvan, we still stay 4 or 5 [,] we are strong enough [;] despite the renegades, despite today’s France and insane herds we will save the art [,] spirit and honesty in our country.

Yes I will go see you, I owe it to my conscience to make this pilgrimage, with your Châtiments you have avenged me half.

I will go from your nice retreat to contemplate the spectacle of your sea, the sites of our mountains also offer us the boundless spectacle of immensity [,] this void that cannot be filled gives calm. I admit it [,] Poet [,] I love the solid ground and the orchestra of the countless herds that inhabit our mountains.

The sea ! the sea ! with its charms saddens me, it makes me in its joy the effect of the laughing tiger ; in its sadness it reminds me of the crocodille’s tears, and in its fury that rumbles, the caged monster that cannot swallow me.

Yes yes I will go although not knowing how far I will live up to the honor you will do me by posing in front of me.

Ever yours

Gustave Courbet

Salins on 28 November 1864

Despite his willingness to go to Guernsey, the two men will not meet until the beginning of the Commune, in March 1871, at the funeral of Hugo’s son, Charles, and Courbet will never paint his portrait.

Wet seal [of Alfred Normand ?]

Lettres & manuscrits, petits et grands secrets, Paris, Musée des lettres et manuscrits et Flammarion, 2010, pp. 220-221 ; Des Lettres et des Peintres. Manet, Gauguin, Matisse… Confidences de quarante artistes, [Paris], Musée des lettres et manuscrits et Beaux-Arts Éditions, 2011, pp. 46-47 [exhibition presented at the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, in Paris, du 29 April to 28 August 2011].

Small cracks on the crease .

G. Courbet, lettre autographe signée à V. Hugo.

One of the painter’s most beautiful letters, moreover addressed to Victor Hugo, his compatriot from Franche-Comté.

16 000 €