Curator‘s Comments

Usha Kutty, Smith class of 1988

I first encountered formally taught and curated art at Smith in 1985 when I entered as an international student from India. For someone who loved art and tried to 'see' it in the books I bought in India, studying works in the flesh was like breathing vital oxygen.

Even though this was followed by many experiences of great art in the US and abroad, the Smith collection made an enduring impression of intimacy and connection I felt to "my school's" collection. I took studio art and art history classes, worked in the Visual Resources department, and became a Museum docent. In short, I knew those buildings really well in my time at Smith!

I chose this painting because its subject changes oddly mid-stream, going from the depiction of funeral preparations to that of bridal dressing. Two things occur to me: one, the abrupt shift of trajectory and story are somewhat like mine in that coming to Smith changed my life dramatically on many levels. Smith enabled me to position myself to tell a different story from that which perhaps I would have written.

The second aspect that strikes me is that truth of one’s original intention will always win out over superficially imposed changes. Even though the artist tried to change the scene to make it more pleasing and probably more saleable, any reasonably acute observer would see that the central figure has a curious lifelessness to it. The original drawing of the dead girl really did render a truth about the essential quality of the figure. I guess the question I have not yet answered is: Can we fundamentally change ourselves? Perhaps the intention too must be re-evaluated and re-drawn.

Gustave Courbet. French, 1819–1877

Preparation of the Dead Girl, ca. 1850–1855

Oil on canvas.

Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund.

ID Number: SC 1929:1