In Courbet’s time, paintings on this large scale were usually reserved for historical, religious, or allegorical subjects rather than scenes of everyday life. This unfinished painting is one of a series created by Courbet to elevate, without idealizing, traditional customs and ordinary activities of the French rural peasantry. When it was acquired by the Museum in 1929, it was known by the title Preparation of the Bride.
X-rays of this work revealed that the central figure was originally nude, her left arm was draped limply across her lap, and many of her attendants wore black rather than white. The nude figure was overpainted in white and her left arm was raised to hold a mirror, which may have been added at this stage.
Although the painting came from Courbet’s studio after his death, no record of a work entitled Preparation of the Bride appeared on the studio inventory. On the other hand, a work entitled Preparation of the Dead Girl was listed. Researchers concluded that this painting is in fact Courbet’s Preparation of the Dead Girl, altered and retitled Preparation of the Bride some time after Courbet’s death in 1877, possibly after World War I, to make it more saleable.