Courbet made this portrait during an 1858 trip to Brussels intended to cultivate a Belgian market for his work. Shown that summer in Antwerp, the picture earned praise for its forthright portrayal of a woman who was not conventionally beautiful, but seemed "strong-willed… and full of spirit." The painting remained in the sitter’s family until it was purchased in 1907, at the recommendation of Mary Cassatt, by Louisine and H.O. Havemeyer. Mrs. Havemeyer later recalled that Madame de Brayer was a Polish exile married to a Belgian.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): G. Courbet..58
the family of the sitter, Brussels (until 1907; sold, spring 1907, through Théodore Duret and Mary Cassatt to Havemeyer); Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (until his d.1907; shipped to them by Durand-Ruel, May 11, 1907, deposit no. 11181, as "Portrait de femme"); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929; cat., 1931, pp. 90–91, ill.)
Antwerp. Société royale pour l'encouragement des beaux-arts. "Salon d'Anvers," August 8–?, 1858, no. 150 (as "Portrait de Mme X . . . ," lent by M. le docteur Breyer [sic], Brussels).
Brussels. Cercle Artistique et Littéraire. "14 tableaux de Gustave Courbet exposés appartenant à des collectionneurs belges," 1878 [see Fernier 1977].
F. van den Berghen. "Exposition d'Anvers." L'Artiste, n.s., 5 (September 5, 1858), pp. 4–5, in a review of Exh. Antwerp 1858, calls this picture "le plus fort de toute la galerie".
Camille Lemonnier. G. Courbet et son oeuvre. Paris, , p. 72 [reprinted in Lemonnier, "Les Peintres de la vie," 1888, pp. 49–50], describes a portrait in Exh. Brussels 1878 of a woman "affublée d'une laideur sentimentale et pincée" [probably this picture]
probably this work.
J. Krexpel. "L'exposition des portraits des maîtres du siècle, à Bruxelles." La Revue blanche, série 3, 2 (May 1890), p. 57, as a portrait of Madame Bayer [sic].
H[arry]. B. W[ehle]. "Loan Exhibition of Modern French Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 16 (May 1921), p. 94, notes that this work was painted during Courbet's stay in Brussels in 1858, and quotes Duret's opinion of it as "perhaps the most successful that Courbet ever painted".
Charles Léger. Courbet. Paris, 1929, p. 74.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Exhibition of the H. O. Havemeyer Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25 (March 1930), p. 55.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, pp. 90–91, ill., calls it "Portrait of Madame de Brayer".
Charles Sterling inChefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, p. 140, no. 278.
Charles Léger. Courbet et son temps (Lettres et documents inédits). Paris, 1948, pp. 66, 192, 196, quotes a letter from Mrs. Havemeyer to Théodore Duret, in which she mentions this picture without identifying the sitter.
Gerstle Mack. Gustave Courbet. New York, 1951, p. 150.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. New York, 1961, p. 188, describes seeing the picture in a private collection in Brussels, and notes Duret's and Degas' high opinions of it.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 118–19, ill.
Robert Fernier. La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet. Vol. 1, Peintures, 1819–1865. Lausanne, 1977, pp. 144–45, no. 232, ill., calls it "Portrait de Mme de Brayer, dite l'exilée polonaise".
Hélène Toussaint inGustave Courbet, 1819–1877. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. London, 1978, pp. 133–34, no. 53, ill. [French ed., 1977, p. 148, no. 56, ill.], considers it "one of Courbet's finest portraits, recalling Bronzino and the noble portraitists of the Renaissance".
Pierre Courthion. L'opera completa di Courbet. Milan, 1985, p. 85–86, no. 224, ill.
Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 178, 180, 245, 257, pl. 137, describes the Havemeyers' acquisition of this picture during a trip to Brussels with Mary Cassatt and Théodore Duret in 1907.
Ann Dumas in Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin. Courbet Reconsidered. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1988, pp. 132–33, no. 31, ill. (color).
Klaus Herding. Courbet: To Venture Independence. New Haven, 1991, p. 243 n. 49, suggests it is probably Courbet's earliest use of a planar, non-objective background color.
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, ed. Letters of Gustave Courbet. By Gustave Courbet. Chicago, 1992, pp. 158, 160 n. 2, reprints a letter of Courbet's to his father, which she dates 1858, suggesting that his reference to painting two portraits while in Brussels includes this work.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 188, 202, 329 n. 261.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 246, 278, pl. 244.
Gary Tinterow inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 24.
Gretchen Wold inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 312, no. A129, ill. p. 313.
Jörg Zutter inCourbet: Artiste et promoteur de son œuvre. Ed. Jörg Zutter and Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Exh. cat., Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne. Paris, 1998, pp. 20, 30, 132, no. 11, colorpl. 71, remarks on the use of a balustrade to separate the interior from the exterior; observes that, despite the title, the identity of the sitter is unknown, but suggests that the black dress, hair brooch, and seriousness of the sitter allude to her widowhood.
Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Modern Art Comes to the Metropolitan: The 1921 Exhibition of 'Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings'." Apollo 152 (October 2000), p. 10.
Valérie Bajou. Courbet. Paris, 2003, pp. 316–17, ill. (color), questions the identity of the sitter as Madame de Brayer, in spite of the picture's title, and remarks that the model is unknown.
Kathryn Calley Galitz inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 45, 199, no. 25, ill. (color and black and white).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 57, 233–34, no. 54, ill. (color and black and white).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inGustave Courbet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, pp. 149, 306–7, no. 141, ill. (color) [French ed., Paris, 2007].
Jean-Philippe Huys inGustave Courbet et la Belgique: Réalisme de l'art vivant à l'art libre. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Milan, 2013, pp. 77, 115, 121, 165, 177, fig. 33 (color).
Jeffery Howe inGustave Courbet et la Belgique: Réalisme de l'art vivant à l'art libre. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Milan, 2013, pp. 136, 143 n. 33.
Dominique Marechal inGustave Courbet et la Belgique: Réalisme de l'art vivant à l'art libre. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Milan, 2013, pp. 42, 52 n. 54, fig. 33 (color detail).
Jeffery Howe inCourbet: Mapping Realism; Paintings from the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and American Collections. Ed. Jeffery Howe. Exh. cat., McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. Chestnut Hill, Mass., 2013, pp. 14, 19 n. 60.
Dominique Marechal inCourbet: Mapping Realism; Paintings from the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and American Collections. Ed. Jeffery Howe. Exh. cat., McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. Chestnut Hill, Mass., 2013, pp. 33, 36 n. 49, fig. 11.