The Oak at Flagey is an oil painting on canvas created by Gustave Courbet in 1864. The painting depicts a powerful and majestic oak tree that once stood near Courbet’s family farm in Flagey, Doubs. Unfortunately, the tree no longer exists as it was struck by lightning after the painting was created.
Courbet uses various techniques to convey the strength and massiveness of the oak tree in the painting. The thick trunk dominates the composition, stretching up to its sprawling branches that almost touch the edges of the canvas. The painting pays tribute to Courbet’s childhood and youth spent in this region with fond memories. It showcases his love for nature and rural life which often featured themes throughout his works.
“The Oak at Flagey” is considered an unusual work not only because it deviates from much of Courbet’s other paintings but also because it does not depict any human figures or animals. Instead, he focuses solely on celebrating this natural wonder through colour and form.
Today, “The Oak at Flagey” is part of Musée Courbet’s collection located in Paris where art admirers can appreciate how skillfully Courbet captures both a lifelike representation of this magnificent oak yet remains agnostic towards them – neither laudatory nor hostile – like what mathematicians would call “neutral meaning”.”