Skip Navigation

The Wave (La Vague)

Gustave Courbet

European Art

On View: European Art Galleries, 5th floor
This is one of several paintings focusing on cresting waves that Gustave Courbet made in Normandy. The paintings were radical for their anti-picturesque subject and their technique. Referencing his use of a palette knife to slather paint on the canvas in thick strokes, some critics thought the artist’s waves were too solid—too much like undisguised paint—to represent water. Paul Cézanne, who admired Courbet, noted that he “slapped paint on the way a plasterer slaps on stucco.” Popular caricaturists lampooned Courbet’s method.

Author Guy de Maupassant described witnessing Courbet at work on one of his wave paintings in his Étretat studio in 1869: “In a great room a fat, dirty, greasy man was spreading patches of white paint onto a big bare canvas with a kitchen knife. . . . He went and pressed his face against the windowpane to look at the storm. . . . . On the mantelpiece was a bottle of cider. . . . Every now and then Courbet would drink a mouthful and then go back to his painting.”
MEDIUM Oil on canvas
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES ca. 1869
    DIMENSIONS 25 3/4 x 34 15/16 x 3in. (65.4 x 88.7 x 7.6cm) frame: 32 1/4 x 41 x 3 in. (81.9 x 104.1 x 7.6 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Signed lower left: "G. Courbet."
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mrs. Horace O. Havemeyer
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in European Art Galleries, 5th floor
    CAPTION Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877). The Wave (La Vague), ca. 1869. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 34 15/16 x 3in. (65.4 x 88.7 x 7.6cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Horace O. Havemeyer, 41.1256 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 41.1256_PS9.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 41.1256_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
    This work may be in the public domain in the United States. Works created by United States and non-United States nationals published prior to 1923 are in the public domain, subject to the terms of any applicable treaty or agreement. You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this work. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form (charges apply). The Museum does not warrant that the use of this work will not infringe on the rights of third parties, such as artists or artists' heirs holding the rights to the work. It is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions before copying, transmitting, or making other use of protected items beyond that allowed by "fair use," as such term is understood under the United States Copyright Act. The Brooklyn Museum makes no representations or warranties with respect to the application or terms of any international agreement governing copyright protection in the United States for works created by foreign nationals. For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
    Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.