Städel Museum in Frankfurt just closed the exhibition Beckmann & Amerika. Truth be told, I wasn’t blown away by the exhibition, but as luck would have it they had also just reopened parts of the permanent collection. Especially the Kunst der Moderne collection is great. Among the highlights is The Wave by Gustave Courbet (as seen above). An anecdote: When reading about the Place Vendôme and its famous Napoleonic column, it came to my attention that Courbet was mixed up with the statue’s turbulent history.
The impressive bronze column is modeled after Trajan’s column in Rome. It was erected by Napoleon as a victory monument for the battle of Austerlitz. The column displays 425 upwards spiraling reliefs in bronze. In fact, the bronze itself is from cannons captured at the battle of Austerlitz. A statue of Napoleon (by Antoine-Denis Chaudet) was originally placed at the top of the column. It showed the Emperor crowned with laurels in Roman fashion, holding a sword in his right hand and a globe with a statue of Victory in the other. After Napoleon’s St Helena exile, the statue was melted down to make the statue of Henry IV, which can be seen on Pont Neuf.
Both Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III subsequently provided the column with new statues of Napoleon. With the end of Napoleon III’s regime, however, the Bonaparte dynasty’s detractors again wanted the statue removed. Courbet, who had angered Napoleon III by declining the Legion of Honour, was in charge of Paris museums during the 1871 Paris Commune. He proposed that the column be taken down and reassembled in the Hotel des Invalides. The column was eventually dismantled, with the bronze plates kept intact. When the the Commune ended Courbet suffered for his role in the Column’s removal. He was forced to cover the cost for its restoration, an amount estimated at 323,000 francs.
The bankrupt painter died in exile in Switzerland – without having paid the first installment, of course.