Courbet’s Portrait of a Young Boy
Courbet's drawing of a young boy shows how even a minor sketch by a poetic painter must still identify the subject as the master himself. Here Courbet does it with his initials, G C, in much the same way as he did in his The Wheatsifters. There Michael Fried has suggested that the two figures mimic the shape of Courbet's signed initials.1 He is right, of course. See if you can find out how Courbet did likewise here before clicking on the next thumbnail.
The shading around the boy's eyes approximately matches the shape of how Courbet wrote his own initials in the lower right-hand corner of the same sheet. He did not, though, include the initials wherever was convenient but around the eyes, the eyes of a great master. The boy, moreover, wears the hat that Courbet himself seems to wear in a number of earlier self-portraits.2
Click next thumbnail to continue
Now compare the diagram to the original. There are two ways of tracing the curlicue of the G around the shading of the boy's right eye but, either way, there is a resemblance to his own initial. (Gauguin formed a similar G in his Vision after the Sermon.) The C-shape around the other eye is more obvious and less open to dispute.
Keep your eye open for letters like that elsewhere in Courbet's art and in the work of other painters too, even sculptors. It seems to be more common than anyone but an artist has imagined.
More Works by Courbet
See how Manet's identification with Courbet is recognized by a later artist who then used it in his portrait of yet another artist.
Find out how the colloquial term for a female rider inspired an artist
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 19 Nov 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.