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The Thorny Path

Thomas Couture, French, 1815 - 1879

Made in France, Europe


Oil on canvas

51 1/2 inches × 6 feet 3 inches (130.8 × 190.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 250, European Art 1850-1900, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, the George W. Elkins Fund, and the Edith H. Bell Fund, 1986

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The Thorny Path is Couture's satire of decadent French society. A courtesan drives a carriage pulled not by animals but by four male captives who represent different ages and states of society. The naked old man leading the procession is flabby from indulgence; the troubadour following him, a symbol of young love, parodies the medieval ballads popular in nineteenth century France. The old soldier bends his head in self-reproach, and the young student writes as he walks, symbolizing the educated nobility's ignorance of the realities of daily life. The thistles and thorny plants along the road suggest the painfulness of their journey. The decrepit figure seated at the rear of the carriage with a bottle of wine in her basket foreshadows the courtesan's future. Finally, Couture signed his initials on the stone figure at center, which seems to be laughing at the entourage.

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