Clement Laurier was an intriguing and controversial fellow (much like Courbet himself). Infamous for switching political allegiances to serve his own best interests, Laurier began his career as a shrewd accountant and later held numerous political offices. In this portrait, Courbet’s characteristic quick brushstrokes and dark palette portray Laurier as a young man just breaking into French society. His guarded pose, almost defiant expression, and the stormy, undefined landscape in the background suggest a personality that could be equally as dark and turbulent.
Meanwhile, his wife–painted by Courbet one year later on the occasion of their marriage–is calmer. The sapphire blue sky seems to ignore the overcast clouds, and Madame Laurier’s head is cocked to the side, her expression one of acceptance rather than defiance, as she considers both us and her new husband (after all, the portraits likely would have been placed side-by-side). And yet she is dressed in riding gear, outside near a forest, rather than inside her house in fanciful dress: despite the comparative calmness of this painting, I’m betting she had the confidence and spunk to keep up with stormy Monsieur Laurier.
Visit Laurier in gallery 11 (and take your smartphone so you can compare him with his wife at the Met!).