Courbet hugely enjoyed the hunt, and at the center of Le Repas de Chasse, he painted himself nearly life-size. Believing himself an embodiment of the hunter, who he considered embodying the spirit of liberty, “un homme libre,” he was proud of his skill, once bragging that he had killed a magnificent stag, a twelve pointer, about thirteen years old, and the largest killed in Germany in twenty-five years.

Le Repas is also allusion to Brillat-Savarin’s description of the Haltes de Chasse, the hunters’ tryst and luncheon. Though he does not acknowledge this, the similarity is likely a result of Courbet’s familiarity with Psychology of Taste, in which hunters break for trysts and arrange for festive luncheons in the field. Courbet was out of sync with the swank and effeminate style of others who painted hunt meals such as Watteau, De Troyes, Le Moyne. While Brillat-Savarin emphasizes the food and wine, Courbet contrasts the thrill of the hunt with the fine dining alfresco; food and wine on the left balances the trophies of the morning’s hunt on the right.

In society, the hunters’ luncheon is enlivened by the company of women and a variety of foods not out of place in a dinning room. It’s realistic and shows hunters in appropriate garb, especially the central figure, probably Courbet, with the yellow hat.

Le Repas depicts the moment when the two ladies have just arrived but before the rest of the hunting party have arrived. The Master of the Hunt, in red, signals with his horn for the others to meet at the trysting place.

Courbet’s narrative is balanced, but not symmetrical, in process but not static. Every image is still and placed so that at first glance the scene seems artificial like a grouping of statues. In the foreground, the luncheon is set out but not served: a roast, a large knife and a fork beside it; large dinner plates; a basket of fruit and bottles of wine. A servant kneels retrieving more wine cooling in the stream. On the left, the exhausted hunting dogs lie next to the morning’s kill. The central plane is occupied by hunters and visiting ladies.

The subject of  repas de chasse was popular with Watteau, Lancret, Van Loo, but their style of depicting fashionable hunters and women in stylish clothing is antithetical to Courbet’s realism. {See entries for these artists elsewhere on PicnicWit]

Featured Image: The Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, uses the title Le Repas de Chasse où L’Halali du Chevreul. Gustave Courbet. (1858), oil on canvas. But the editor of the Courbet catalog raisonné Robert Fernier calls it Repas de Chasse or Le Pique-nique, though it is doubtful that Courbet would have used the word pique-nique. See: Robert Fernier. La vie et l’oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, Catalogue Raisonné. Lausanne and Paris: La Bibliothéque des Arts, 1978; Origins of Impressionism Edited by Gary Tinterow and Henry Loyrette. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994 ; Ulrich Finke French 19th Century Painting and Literature. New York: Harper & Row, 2014; Michael Fried. Courbet’s Realism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992; Shao-Chien Tseng. “Contested Terrain: Gustave Courbet’s Hunting Scenes.” The Art Bulletin 90, no. 2 (2008)