Gustav Courbet came from a prosperous family. He emerged as an angry young man of his era critical of the restored monarchy. His ambition was to paint peasant and rurallife and greatly admired Millet. Some of his scenes of rural life include depictions of children. He persued many other themes as well. Courbet was an artist of enormous talent. His impact on the art world was somewhat impaired by his dabling in politics and his lack of focus. He is best known for his commitment to realism. Courbet was the first important French artist to persue realism. The French public an art world in the early 19th century expected beauty in art. They wanted artist to paint portraits that improved on nature and to paint images of the world that improved upon nature. Courbet despite enormous crticism attempted to truthfully depict the scenes and portraits he painted.
Gustave's parents were a well-to-do farming family in Ornans, France. One of his primary interest throughout his life was to accurately depict rural life.
Gustave was born in 1819.
Gustave was sent to Paris to study law (1841). After only a brief time, he decided to study painting instead. He learned by copying masterpieces in French museums.
He had early success. His "Courbet with a Black Dog", a self portrait. It was accepted by the Salon (1844). He subsequently did many self portraits. The Revolutions of 1848 swept France and the rest of Europe. The Revolution overthrew the reign of Louis Philippe and installed a short-lived republic. Major revolutions and wars often result in changes in society, liture, fashion, and art are also affected. These crisis seem to make society more willing to acceot new ideas and approaches. This appears to have aided Courbet and his new realistic approach to art. Courbet rejected accepted artistic conventions.He was also the angry young man of his era, critical of the art conventions as wella s the monarchy. This was reflected in his art. He not only defied, he asaulted conventional tastes. He wrote to a friend in 1850, exclaiming that "in our so very civilized society it is necessary for me to live the life of a savage. I must be free even of governments. The people have my sympathies, I must address myself to them directly." Courbet had a successful exibition after the Revolution (1849). He then painted two of his best known works, "The Stone-Breakers" (1849) and "Burial at Ornans" (1850) seen here (figure 1). Notice the alatar boys and their red scull caps. These two works embody Courbet's realistic approach. There is no effort to beautify life. His huge work, "The Artist's Studio" (1855) was rejected for an important exhibition. Courbet in an unpresedent action, displayed the work privately near the exhibition hall.
Courbet traveled to Germany (1856). He was well received by the German art world. He became the recognized leader of the realist art movement in France which was achieving increasing recognition.
Courbet was by the 1860s painting all kinds of works. He moved beyound his focus on rural life. Some of his best work during this era were nature scenes. He liked to do seascapes with powerful storm clouds. The sky seen in the image here is apale imotation to the skies in his seascapes. He did a notable series of these seascapes (1865). These are said to have influenced the Impresionists. He did some female nudes which some art critiques complain border on the groresque if not phornographic, especially "Turkish Bath" done for Khalil Bey, a Turkish diplomat.
Courbet was a socialist and active politically. He despised Napoleon III and his regime. He participated in the Paris Commune following the disatrous Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). He notably was behind the destruction of the Bonaparte Column in the Place Vend˘me. [Johnson, p. 584.] He was imprisoned for 6 months after the supression of the Commune. Here he paonted some predictable self-portraits and some naotable still lifes, especially of apples. Unable to pay a substantial fine, he fled to Switzerland.
Courbet died in La Tour-de-Peilz in 1877.
Courbet was an artist of enormous talent. His impact on the art world was somewhat impaired by his dabling in politics and his lack of focus. He is best known for his commitment to realism. Courbet was the first important French artist to persue realism. The French public an art world in the early 19th century expected beauty in art. They wanted artist to paint portraits that improved on nature and to paint images of the world that improved upon nature. Courbet despite enormous crticism attempted to truthfully depict the scenes and portraits he painted.
Clark, T.J. Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution.
Fried, Michael. Courbet's Realism.
Johnson, Paul. Art: A New History (Harper Collins: New York, 2003), 777p.
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Created: April 8, 2004
Last updated: April 8, 2004