Musée Courbet
Realism and renewal

Image © Département du Doubs / Ilyès Receveur

Ornans, France


The only museum in France entirely dedicated to celebrated 19th-century painter Gustave Courbet, the Courbet Museum reopened in July 2021. Situated in the artist's hometown of Ornans, Department du Doubs, it nestles in the beautiful Jura Mountains of eastern France. The reopening follows an extensive program of renovations, undertaken during a period of forced closure in the pandemic. The new-look building has been designed by the Ateliér FCS (Paris) under the expert guidance of curator and museum director, Benjamin Foudral.



Inside, a new permanent exhibition comprises 55 works by the master of French Realism and is intended to show, as Foudral says, "Courbet's visceral attachment to his native territory, how fundamental his territory was in his trajectory and in his production, but also how much Courbet beyond the child of the country, remains a revolutionary painter."

The museum sits in the house where Courbet was born, a historic building with parts dating back to the 15th–17th centuries. Perched on the bank of the Loue River, it is just one part of a larger property network that houses the artist's studio (also under renovation), the family farm in the village of Flagey and local land that featured in some of the master’s paintings.

Image © Département du Doubs / Ilyès Receveur

Courbet was a divisive figure in the art world. He attracted fervent admiration from some, but also drew harsh criticism for his rejection of artistic conventions and the irreverence of some of his works. The erotic nature of some of Courbet’s paintings was considered scandalous at the time, and his involvement with the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune led to a brief spell in prison. The artist died in exile in Switzerland in 1877; only in 1919 were his remains returned to Ornans, thanks to the insistence and pressure of his younger sister, Juliette. She exhibited five of his works in the painter’s former studio in Ornans, planting the seed for what would be called 'the smallest museum in the world'.

Today, substantial funding from the administration has enabled the functional adaptation of the building, with major renewals of exhibition design, interpretation, and a lighting system suitable for protecting and enhancing Courbet's precious works. In addition to paintings, the permanent exhibition also includes sculptures, drawings and graphic artworks by the Master of Ornans, as well as works by his contemporaries.

Image © Département du Doubs / Ilyès Receveur

The digital world also makes an appearance, thanks to a virtual companion and immersive spaces that evoke one of his masterpieces, The Burial at Ornans, and the landscapes that inspired Courbet in his search for a deeper connection with nature.

In order to accommodate the most fragile and delicate works and accompanying interpretation, Goppion has created eight horizontal showcases with a practical and elegant design. Each is equipped with a variety of rotating and mechanically or manually lifted opening systems, specifically tailored according to the display and maintenance requirements of the works they contain. Additionally, Goppion has provided five plinths for sculptures also on display.

Built and installed in a record time of only two months, the showcases offer the very best conditions for preventive conservation and are equipped with a passive humidity control system. With the museum’s doors now open to the public once more, there has never been a better time to experience the works of this remarkable, influential artist and his fascinating life story.

Image © Département du Doubs / Ilyès Receveur