This magnificent painting of the Rock of Hautepierre is an outstanding example of Gustave Courbet’s command of landscape painting. Everything about this painting is firm and as solid as a rock.
The scene of the rock is set in the shade rather than in full sun. There is enough daylight to see everything clearly it just is not directly in the full light of day. However, there is an advantage to this and I believe that the artist knew full well what those intentions were, that is to use the high contrast of the setting sun’s rays to accent key places on the rock and also the large stone lower and to the left in the painting. These spots act as accents to the work and draw you into it. Courbet has highlighted the large rock to the left so as to bring the whole scene fully into the picture plane. If the afore mentioned rock was not highlighted it would struggle to have a place in the work of art and eventually lose it’s place as an anchor for visualization.
The small farm-house in the bottom center is the anchor of the painting and provides the viewer with a solid point of reference. I do have to take task with the artist in one small point and I am confident that he was deliberate in his intentions and that is of the lack of shade that should be on the house from the large tree to the right. If you look carefully you will see that the sun is shining directly from the right on the precipices of the mountain and even the large rock on the far left side of the painting. In following this angle there should be some shadow from the enormous tree on the house, but here is none. In fact if you look below the tree to the small section of the wall facing the sun it is the brightest tone on the house. Further, the roof of the house that faces the viewer though not in the direct sunlight is still in the light of day with no shadows casting on it. There should be some shadow from the large tree on the roof. It is my conviction that Courbet deliberately eliminated the shadow so that he could take advantage of the available light, I have done this kind of thing in my own paintings. It must be remembered that an artist is not here to replicate or record a scene and put it on canvas, the task of the artist it to interpret the scene and compose the elements to make a work of art. To do this you must alter things that are actually in the scene so as to make artistic sense of it.
Stephen F. Condren – Artist