Meeting “Winter in the Jura”

Courbet_Winter in the Jura

Gustave Courbet, Winter in the Jura, c. 1875. Oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 24 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1958

During an impromptu stroll around the galleries on a snowy January day, I was drawn in by an intriguing image that I had not noticed before in a gallery that was originally the Phillips family home’s West Parlor. The scene before my eyes was not dissimilar from the one unfolding outside. Gustave Courbet’s Winter in the Jura (c. 1875) appeared just as breathtaking as the fresh snowfall outside. Rather than belonging to a particular school or movement, Courbet is perhaps better known for his lack of association with any one group. His work is neither strictly Romantic nor Neoclassical, and Courbet believed the popular style of History painting to be a waste of his time. Instead, Courbet aimed to “…in short…create living art,” which he has certainly done successfully in Winter in the Jura. The painting has a life-like quality that goes beyond any kind of hyperrealism. The special silence of a snow-covered morning has been captured perfectly.

In the work, a single figure trudges through the picture plane towards a bend in the road. Flecks of red draw the viewer’s eye to what remains of the foliage in the Jura Mountains. As a native of one of the snowiest cities in the US, I’ve developed a level of comfort that comes along with snow, which Courbet conveys perfectly through Winter in the Jura. Artists like Courbet—who refuse to be pigeon-holed into one category—are often the most valuable to our art education, but also to the development of art as a whole. There is certainly something exceptional about a painting which stirs something familiar in a first-time viewer. The artist with this special capability must possess the “power of conception” and “sacred knowing” that Courbet so often mentioned in letters to friends. In this way, Courbet made himself truly free from the restraints of institutions as he always wished to, holding power to “…address the people directly” in self-portraits and scenes of snowy mornings.

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern

ArtGrams: McArthur Binion

More art from up close. DNA: Black Painting: 1 by McArthur Binion. #latergram #artfromupclose #procrastigramming

A photo posted by Mike Katz (@mug.of.glop) on

This recent acquisition by McArthur Binion has been catching they eyes of visitors ever since it first went on display last year. In this month’s ArtGrams, we’re featuring some of your creative shots of DNA: Black Painting: 1 (2015). Share your photos in and around the museum for a chance to be featured on the blog.

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A visit to a museum.

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A beautiful collage that happens to be a bunch of Mississippi birth certificates. ❤️ #phillipscollection

A photo posted by Monika (@monika_ellis) on

DNA: Black Painting 1, McArthur Binion, 2015 (Section)

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Sunday night at #ThePhillipsCollection

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ArtGrams is a monthly series in which we feature our favorite Instagrammed pictures taken around or inspired by the museum. Each month, we’ll feature a different theme based on trends we’ve seen in visitor photos. Hashtag your images with #PhillipsCollection or tag your location for a chance to be featured.

A Longing to be Stylish


Vincent van Gogh, Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1930

The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh is counted among the greatest artists of all time. His most famous and beloved masterpieces like The Starry Night and Sunflowers plaster the walls of dormitories, classrooms, and office spaces. Here at The Phillips Collection, we are lucky enough to own Entrance to the Public Garden in Arles and The Road Menders, among others. Both works are currently on view at the Phillips.

Though van Gogh’s widespread fame today may not suggest it, he was only successful in selling a single painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyards at Arles. His brother and pen pal, Theo, worked as an art collector, frequently expending his resources to attempt to sell Vincent’s paintings. As an intern here at the Phillips, and as an aspiring art professional, I feel a deep and humble connection to van Gogh and his particular struggle to be recognized as an artist. Van Gogh was perpetually fighting an uphill battle, and was rarely taken seriously by his contemporaries. Nevertheless, he produced more than almost any other known artist, as nearly 900 paintings and over 1,000 drawings survive him.

Striving to find one’s place in the art world is daunting. Van Gogh was constantly reminded that his technique was not in style, that he had started too late, and that he was an amateur. Undergraduate art students are often faced with the challenge of explaining our passion to those who see it as a hobby, as idealistic, or as necessarily non-lucrative. Though I am certain that any young artist would prefer to sell a few more paintings than our friend van Gogh, it is inspiring to read the stories and letters of a man with such great hope, in the face of very few tangible successes. Perhaps this was best for Vincent, as he stated in a March 1882 letter to Theo: “Occasionally, in times of worry, I’ve longed to be stylish, but on second thought I say no—just let me be myself—and express rough, yet true things with rough workmanship.”

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern