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French town raises €4m to bring Courbet painting home

© AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2013-03-11

After more than 100 years in the hands of private foreign collectors, Courbet’s masterpiece “The Oak of Flagey” has returned to the artist’s native country thanks to an exceptional fundraising push by locals.

Residents of the tiny French village of Ornans teamed up with local businesses and the state to buy a 4-million-euro painting by Gustave Courbet, now on display in the artist’s birthplace in eastern France.

“The Oak of Flagey”, painted in 1864, was unveiled over the weekend at the Courbet Museum in Ornans to groups of private donors, some of whom gave as little as 5 euros in a collective push to bring the masterpiece home.

“Visitors were struck dumb when they saw it in the museum,” said Marie Payer, spokeswoman of the General Council of the Doubs Department, the local government body that organised the unique collection drive.

“It was a very emotional moment, after months of doubt about our ability to raise 4 million euros,” Payer told France 24 by telephone.

The painting depicts a tree once located near the house owned by Courbet’s father in the nearby town of Flagey. The artwork spent decades in the United States before being sold in 1987 to the Japanese collector Michimasa Murauchi.

It is now the flagship painting of the Courbet Museum, according to Payer. “We had 75 works by Courbet on display in our permanent collection, but we were missing a symbolic piece. We have finally found it,” she said.

Long journey home

The masterpiece’s final journey home started more than one year ago, after Murauchi announced he was selling it along with his entire collection. Doubs Council President Claude Jeannerot reportedly rushed to Tokyo to convince the Japanese collector to remove Courbet's tree from the auction lot, so that the French department could purchase it separately.

A deal was struck in March 2012 between the two parties, and the public fundraising drive to find 4 million euros was launched in April.

Individual donors, giving from as little as 5 euros to several thousand, raised €265,000. Forty-one local businesses added 2.4 million euros to the trust, with one toy company giving 1 million euros alone.

The rest of the sum needed was provided by the local government and the French state.

At the painting’s unveiling ceremony on March 9, Frédérique Thomas-Morin, the Courbet Museum curator, told reporters it was an exceptional moment for her museum and the community.

“Not every curator is so lucky as to buy a painting of this quality,” she told France 3 television. “It’s very moving.”

The museum has invited all of Ornans' residents, and the public at large, to view “The Oak of Flagey” for free on March 17, 24 and 31.

Date created : 2013-03-11

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