The peasantry and social progress

The peasantry and social progress

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Title: The peasants of Flagey returning from the fair.

Author : COURBET Gustave (1819 - 1877)

School : Realism

Creation date : 1850

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 208 - Width 275

Technique and other indications: also says "The return of the fair" oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Besançon Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology website

Contact copyright: © Musée d'Orsay, on deposit at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon (France) / Photo C. Choffet

Picture reference: RF 1959-9 / inv.D.959.1.1

The peasants of Flagey returning from the fair.

© Musée d'Orsay, on deposit at the Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon (France) / Photo C. Choffet

Publication date: November 2007

Historical context

In the middle of the XIXe century, the department of Doubs, where Flagey and Ornans are located, native village of Courbet, is mainly artisanal and peasant. In 1846, these villages had 30% of artisans and shopkeepers, while work in the fields occupied 40% of the population. With roughly the same characteristics, the country of Ornans is relatively dynamic: more than ten fairs are held there annually.

By immortalizing it in The Peasants of Flagey returning from the fair, Gustave Courbet thus pays homage to the region where it was born.

Image Analysis

The painting represents a moment in the daily life of the Franche-Comté peasantry: at nightfall, peasants, men and women alike, return from the Salins fair with their purchases. Some bring food back in their baskets, others have acquired animals to be fattened. The richest are on horseback, the poorest follow them on foot.

There is something artificial in the composition of this canvas, in a style which in some respects recalls popular imagery: on the sidelines of this strange procession of peasants, the man with the pig seems to be added, stuck on top of it. together once the painting is complete. Courbet's taste for detail (the pipe of the man with the pig, his umbrella, the basket balanced on the head of the peasant woman) testifies to a concern for realism, but also to the sentimental value that objects of the everyday life still own for a native child.


The Peasants of Flagey returning from the fair was sent to the Salon of 1851 with The Burial at Ornans and The Stone Breakers. If this painting makes the public uncomfortable, it is because it shows without seeking to embellish a very banal, even trivial reality, and that it elevates a genre scene to the rank of historical painting. But this bias is reflected in his aesthetic, as it is true that the leader of the realist school also defines himself as a painter of the land who, attached to his "small homeland", assumes this local roots.

The educated peasantry of Doubs, made up mostly of small and medium-sized landowners, constitutes the pillar of an "egalitarian democracy brought to the limits of ease" (J.-L. MAYAUD, The Second Republics of Doubs, Literary Annals of the University of Besançon, Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1986, p. 123 and 84). In this painting, Courbet made himself the painter of a small, almost affluent peasantry, a friend of property, the "granite mass" of a stable and moderate society.

  • fair
  • peasants
  • realism
  • rural life
  • campaign


Jean-Luc MAYAUD, The Second Republics of Doubs, Annales littéraires of the University of Besançon, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1986.

Jean-Luc MAYAUD, The Peasants of the Doubs in the time of Courbet. Economic and social study of the peasants of Doubs in the mid-19th century, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, coll. "Literary annals of the University of Besançon", 1979.

Jean-Luc MAYAUD, Courbet, L’Enterrement à Ornans: a tomb for the Republic, Paris, The History Shop, 1999.

COLLECTIVE, Ornans at the funeral. Historical painting of human figures, catalog of the exhibition in Ornans from June 13 to November 1, 1981, departmental museum, birthplace of Courbet in Ornans, Ornans, 1981.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The peasantry and social progress"

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