in the midst of the Venice-like town of Ornans
This house is 30 minutes from Besançon, with its TGV train station and an hour from Switzerland. It stands, in the Loue Valley in Burgundy’s Franche-Comté region, on a corner of Ornans town square, once known as Place-des-Iles-Basses and renamed Place-Gustave-Courbet in the last century. Said square, planted with plane trees, hundreds of years old, is where the artist installed his “Pêcheur de Chavots”, a bronze statue of a boy fishing for chub, which he gave the town in 1862.
“At the end of summer 1849, Courbet started work on his first monumental painting. He wanted to make it his “statement of principle” and made this clear by calling the work Painting of Human Figures, the History of a Burial at Ornans. He took his inspiration from group portraits of Dutch civic guards in the 17th century, while the sumptuous blacks recall Spanish art. The nuances of colour in the dark greens and dull greys produce an austere tone, the thick, robust technique gives the people and the natural elements density and weight. The rigorous frieze-like composition and the gaping grave strewn with bones invite us to think about the human condition.
Courbet's approach was radically innovative at the time: he used a canvas of dimensions usually reserved for history painting, a “noble” genre, to present an ordinary subject, with no trace of idealisation, which cannot pretend to be a genre scene either.
At the Salon in 1850-1851, many people decried "the ugliness" of the people, and the ordinariness of the whole scene. Among the few admirers of the painting, one critic prophesied that it would remain “the Herculean pillars of realism in modern history”. The very subject of the painting has been reinterpreted. At first regarded as anticlerical, it was finally believed that, in a composition dominated by Christ on the cross, bringing together the clergy, a mayor and a masonic judge, surrounded by men and women from all walks of life, it was the idea of “universal understanding” which prevailed, a constant preoccupation in the 19th century and for the 1848 generation in particular.”
In 1842, the painter’s mother inherited this 3-storey townhouse, where Courbet’s maternal grandfather, Jean-Antoine-Oudot, lived.
On the ground floor, a level given over to commerce with its room opening on to Place-Courbet, a large garage and storage areas.
Currently on the first and the second floors are independent flats which have been accessed for centuries via the original stairway.
The roof that covers the roofing framework above Courbet’s first studio - as a plaque on the facade reminds visitors - has just been renovated under the supervision of architects from “Bâtiments de France”.
The 17th century origins of this house can be clearly seen on the ground floor. On the floor, square paving stones, a stone gully, an immense cellar with the old laundry room. By enlarging an opening in the cellar and adding a stairwell up to the vast, first and second floor landings, an independent access could create a third flat.
Nowadays, after having climbed the first steps of the red stairway: a flat, with its lounge, its dining room and three bedrooms.
This level house a second self-contained flat, with a large room looking out over Place-Courbet. It has two large bedrooms.
The attic space, with the studio and the roof, is protected by French Historic Monument listing. Swallows painted here by the hand of the famous artist are still to be seen.
Furthermore, it was by painting his masterpiece, “A Burial at Ornans” here that Gustave-Courbet gave the town its modern-day claim to fame. He painted without ever seeing the entire canvas which he had to gradually roll and unroll, given the size of the work in the too-small studio.
Although this house is plain, even humble, these premises are steeped in history as well as memories and are ideally set in superb countryside.
If the surface areas are too great for just one family, new owners could envisage a commercial activity as it would be easy to divide the house into four holiday accommodation rental units and to receive tourists all year round.
Furthermore, the ground floor rooms would be perfectly suited to shops or exhibition rooms. Listed as a French Historic Monument, the new owners’ desires and needs to restore the studio will be helped by the grants that they can apply for. And lastly, all contemporary artists will take great pleasure in practicing their art in a studio abounding in memories. One thing is certain here: the swallows painted by the very hand of Courbet that are still flying across the ceiling are alone enough to capture the imagination of those who appreciate beauty.
|Land registry surface area||232 m2|
|Main building surface area||273 m2|
|Number of bedrooms||5|
|Outbuilding surface area||184 m2|
Fanny Proffit +33 1 42 84 80 85
NB: The above information is not only the result of our visit to the property; it is also based on information provided by the current owner. It is by no means comprehensive or strictly accurate especially where surface areas and construction dates are concerned. We cannot, therefore, be held liable for any misrepresentation.