Collection Online
The wave
oil on canvas
54.2 × 73.1 cm
inscribed in brown paint l.l.: G. Courbet
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1924
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
Subjects (general)
Marines and Seascapes
Subjects (specific)
clouds coastal landscapes seas shores (landforms) storms waves (natural events) weather

Collection of Theodore Duret (1839–1927), Paris, 1870s– 1923; from whom acquired by David Croal Thompson of Barbizon House (dealer), London, 1923; exhibited Tate Gallery, London, 25 October –1 December 1923; purchased from Barbizon House, London, on the advice of Frank Rinder, for the Felton Bequest, 1924.

Exhibited: Tate Gallery, London, 25 October –1 December 1923, lent by Barbizon House (dealer)

The wave is one of numerous paintings that Courbet based on a motif developed at the Normandy coastal resort of Étretat in 1869 – a foaming wave poised in mid-crest under stormy, lowering skies filled with threatening clouds. All of his wave paintings reflect the artist’s fascination with the liquid aggression of the ocean. This version may have been painted from memory while Courbet was under arrest for destroying the Vendôme Column during the Paris Commune. A decade later, in 1882 the critic Jules Castagnary saw Courbet’s poised waves as a vision of approaching political freedom, in which ‘Democracy was rising like a cresting wave’.


Essentially Louis XIV in style, frames like this are associated with the Barbizon painters and its use on The wave may reflect this association with the painting.
In this instance the detail of the surface has been suppressed through reworking, reflecting the treatment of frames used to frame Impressionist paintings in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.
The frame could date to around the time of acquisition in 1924.

Unknown - 19th century

timber, composition, gold leaf, heavy patination/toning

76 x 96 x 9.5 cm