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Gustave Courbet, The Beach at Trouville at Low Tide

One who is too eager to befriend nature will get a cold shoulder. Little wonder. Who can possibly read into nature, so inscrutable and silent? But any human creature, feeling belittled as he is under a sky stretching afar to the infinity, inspires in him suddenly a quixotic urge to conquer the unassailable, to provoke the laconic nature, who sleeps seemingly soundly but with eyes open.

Every day the person wakes up to a scenery immutable from the day before, saves that periodically a stroke of lightening galvanizes the slumberous earth, the ear-splitting roar sounds to him like the mocking laugh at his futility of power. Or, fortunately enough, scant stars embellish the darkening sky; their flimsy light nonetheless a sufficient comfort to his desolate soul, disheartened from yet another prolonged day of battles, against the impossible, against the unknown.

Like his genre paintings, Gustave Courbet’s landscape scenes are rarely innocent or peaceful. They all seem to be impregnated with meanings- some are intricate like unsolvable riddles, others a shade too suspicious or sinister, still others, thanks to their age-old wisdom, mask well their true intentions, and appear effortlessly in what the human creatures perceive with their naive eyes: a sleeping beauty. Nature in Courbet’s paintings is never static.

In The Beach at Trouville at Low Tide (1865) pillars of clouds come from nowhere, flit and traverse to a destination indefinite. They seem to be driven by the phantom horses, speeding towards the only human creature on this vast earth. The colours of the soil are a marked contrast to the pallor of the heaven- these two do not mingle as they should be. Clouds are blown by frantic winds but the earth stays stubbornly unperturbed. Within such an intense war zone between the celestial and the terrestrial a lone creature morosely walks.

Nature is restless. Once the human creature is acclimatised to his surroundings he obtains guiltlessly the wisdom Nature accumulates. He ceases stomping the ground or crying aloud in anger and distress, but simply whispers, so dimly that no sooner Nature becomes indifferent to his voice, and mentally wiping out his presence altogether. Gratified with the hard-won peace he finally settles himself with the human creature recalls what he once heard from his ancestors, that there is a holy land not too far-off which is blessed with the absence of all echoes and undue noises. The human creature toys with the imagined vision of this holy land tirelessly in his dreams, sweet or fitful.

Does he resent that, in dearth of a guidance from Nature, he never reach the holy land he so pines for? His obsession tails off without traces as he consciously takes a drink from Lethe. Nature prophesies it all but cares little to inform. The human creature roams the vast earth still everyday, and with unopened eyes he always stares towards the infinity. Beneath the earth only the dead groan.


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