I was walking through The West Wing of the Norton Simon Museum and nearly screamed when I saw this painting of Cliff at Étretat, the Port d’Aval (1869) by Gustave Courbet.

Gold framed painting of the Cliffs of Étretat in the background with a gravel looking beach with a white and black boat in the midground and several large rocks in the foreground.

I couldn’t help but remember the Noël episode of the television series The West Wing (S2 E10) and Bernard’s flat delivery:

This is a painting of the cliffs of Étretat, cleverly entitled “The Cliffs of Étretat”.

Wall mounted museum card displayed next to a painting that reads: Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877) Cliff at Étretat, the Port d'Aval, 1869 Oil on Canvas The extension of a railway line from Paris via Le Havre brought tourism to the tiny fishing village of Étretat in the 1850's. Writers and artists soon flocked to the town, it's picturesque half-mile of beach, and its striking rock formations. Guy de Maupassant, Jacques Offenbach, Camille Corot, Eugene Boudin, and Claude Monet all spent time there, but none conjured its crumbled cliff faces and chill, frothy sea more effectively than Courbet, who spent five weeks in an Étretat cottage during the fall of 1869. His rugged method of paint application—using a palette knife as often as a brush—was ideally suited to the rough topography and lonely aspect of that place. The Norton Simon Foundation F.1969.06.2.P In the bottom corner is a blue circle with a white arrow followed by "326" ostensibly the indicator to play the accompanying audio tour portion for this artwork.
The museum wall card for the seascape oil painting

That episode described a similar painting by a minor (fictitious) painter Gustave Callioux who was apparently influenced by Courbet. The plot was likely art imitating real life as Courbet’s painting was apparently stolen by the Nazis

Perhaps the show’s reference was also a snipe at the Canadian children’s television show Caillou? One also has to wonder at the similarities of the name Cliff Calley who pops ups up in the show’s “Ways and Means” episode (S3, E3).

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich