Listening to Art

04.03: Gustave Courbet, The Cliffs at Étretat


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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume four, number three: The Cliffs at Étretat by Gustave Courbet.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

This is the second issue devoted to The Cliffs at Étretat, one of a set of works Courbet painted in 1869 when he was at Étretat in Normandy on the coast of north-west France. The visit is described by Gerstle Mack in his book Gustave Courbet (p. 230):

In mid-August Courbet went to Etretat, where he found the painter Narcisse Diaz and his son Eugène, who often swam with Courbet in the sea. One day the young man ventured too far out and almost drowned before Courbet, a powerful swimmer, could rescue him and bring him back to shore. “I have been at Etretat for the last twenty-five days,” Courbet wrote to Castagnary on September 6, “if I had been able to see you before I left [Paris] I should have tried to take you with me. The country is charming. There is still time for you to spend a week here. It is very hot, the bathing is delightful. I have already painted nine seascapes which I find satisfactory. Tomorrow I shall start a seascape 1 m. 60 wide for the exhibition [Salon of 1870]. I have never shown one of this kind.” Among these seascapes were Cliffs at Etretat and Stormy Sea, also known as the Wave. Before he left Etretat he had sold five of the seascapes for a total of 4500 francs.

The National Gallery of Canada, where the painting hangs, dates it to 1866, but biographies show the date cannot be earlier than 1869.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 113.3 cm wide by 90.9 cm high.

Now let’s listen to The Cliffs at Étretat by Gustave Courbet, recorded at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, on 10 March 2018.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was The Cliffs at Étretat by Gustave Courbet. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

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Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Mack, Gerstle. Gustave Courbet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951.

National Gallery of Canada. “The Cliffs at Étretat.” National Gallery of Canada. https://www.gallery.ca/collection/artwork/the-cliffs-at-etretat.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Gustave Courbet,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Courbet.