Yesterday Amy mentioned that the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm owns a Violoncellist similar to the one here at the Portland Art Museum. Although remarkably alike, the one in Stockholm (shown above) does have a number of differences. First off, the title is just The Cellist. Next, you'll notice that there is no sheet music. And the overall painting is much brighter. The Cellist was painted in 1848, a year after The Violoncellist. Perhaps 1848, was a happier time for Gustave Courbet. Both are considered self-portraits and both do show Courbet holding a violoncello. Since Courbet couldn't play the instrument, we can all wonder why he chose to portray himself as a musician.
The hands in both of these portraits are expressive, almost portraits in themselves. Professor Steven Zucker from the Smarthistory project talked with Bruce Guenther, Chief Curator of the Portland Art Museum about The Violoncellist on a short video shot linked here. To the left is a close-up from Professor Zucker's photostream on Flickr. You can truly appreciate how Courbet crafted the nails, the knuckles, the fingers of that right hand.
An interesting side note about The Cellist and The Violoncellist – in 1919, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York mounted an exhibition in honor of Gustave Courbet 100th birthday. The Violoncellist was loaned by C. E. S. Wood, one of the founders of the Portland Art Museum, for that exhibit. In 2008, The Cellist was loaned by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm for a major retrospective at the Metropolitan of Gustave Courbet's work. The Violoncellist stayed here in Portland. Perhaps in 2019, they'll both be hung in the same retrospective honoring Courbet's 200th birthday.