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Gustave Courbet (1819 - 1877)
Lifespan: 1819 - 1877
Related: Social realism - modern art - French art
Personal relationships: Proudhon (friend)
Gustave Courbet (portrait by Nadar)
"I have studied the art of the masters and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I have no more wanted to imitate the former than to copy the latter; nor have I thought of achieving the idle aim of 'art for art's sake.' No! I have simply wanted to draw from a thorough knowledge of tradition the reasoned and free sense of my own individuality. To know in order to do: such has been my thought. To be able to translate the customs, ideas, and appearance of my time as I see them — in a word, to create a living art — this has been my aim." Gustave Courbet, preface to World's Fair catalogue, 1855.
The Stone Breakers (1850) - Gustave Courbet
Courbet depicted the harshness in life, and in so doing, challenged contemporary academic ideas of art, which brought him criticism that he deliberately adopted a cult of ugliness. [Apr 2006]
Woman in the Waves (1868) - Gustave Courbet
Towards the end of the 1860s, Courbet painted a series of increasingly erotic works, culminating in "The Origin of the World" (1866), depicting female genitalia, and "The Sleepers" (1866), featuring lesbian lovers in bed. While banned from public display, the works only served to increase his notoriety. [Apr 2006]
Gustave Courbet (June 10, 1819 - December 31, 1877) was a French painter.
Born in Ornans (Doubs), he went to Paris in 1839, and worked at the studio of Steuben and Hesse but his independent spirit did not allow him to remain there long, as he preferred to work out his own way by the study of Spanish, Flemish and French painters. His first works, an "Odalisque," suggested by Victor Hugo, and a "Lélia," illustrating George Sand, were literary subjects; but these he soon abandoned for the study of real life.
Portrait of Countess Karoly (1865)Among other works he painted his own portrait with his dog, and "The Man with a Pipe," both of which were rejected by the jury of the Paris Salon. However, the younger school of critics, the neo-romantics and realists, loudly sang the praises of Courbet, who by 1849 began to be famous, producing such pictures as "After Dinner at Ornans" and "The Valley of the Loire." The Salon of 1850 found him triumphant with the "Burial at Ornans," the "Stone-Breakers" and the "Peasants of Flazey" His style still gained in individuality, as in "Village Damsels" (1852), the "Wrestlers," "Bathers," and "A Girl Spinning" (1852).
Though Courbet's realistic work is not devoid of importance, it is as a landscape and sea painter that he will be most honoured by posterity. Sometimes, it must be owned, his realism is rather coarse and brutal, but when he paints the forests of Franche-Comté, the "Stag-Fight," "The Wave," or the "Haunt of the Does." he is in his element. When Courbet had made a name as an artist he grew ambitious of other glory; he tried to promote democratic and social science, and under the Empire he wrote essays and dissertations.
Towards the end of the 1860s, Courbet painted a series of increasingly erotic works, culminating in "The Origin of the World" (1866), depicting female genitalia, and "The Sleepers" (1866), featuring lesbian lovers in bed. While banned from public display, the works only served to increase his notoriety.
His refusal of the cross of the Legion of Honour, offered to him by Napoleon III, made him immensely popular, and in 1871 he was elected, under the Commune, to the chamber. Thus it happened that he was responsible for the destruction of the Vendôme column. A council of war, before which he was tried, condemned him to pay the cost of restoring the column, 300,000 francs. To escape the necessity of working to the end of his days at the orders of the State in order to pay this sum, Courbet went to Switzerland in 1873, and died at La Tour du Peilz, of a disease of the liver aggravated by intemperance. An exhibition of his works was held in 1882 at the École des Beaux-Arts. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Courbet [Sept 2004]
The Stone Breakers (1850) - Gustave Courbet
The Stone Breakers painting shows Courbet's rejection of both Romantic and Neoclassical formulas. His subject is neither historical nor allegorical, religious nor heroic. The men breaking the stones are ordinary road workers, presented almost life-size. Courbet does not idealize the struggle for existence; he simply says, "Look at this."
Courbet's detractors were sure that he was causing artistic and moral decline by painting what they considered unpleasant and trivial subjects on a grand scale. They accused him of raising a "cult of ugliness" against cherished concepts of Beauty and the Ideal. Realism was perceived as nothing less than the enemy of art, and many believed that photography was the source and the sponsor of this disaster.
When The Stone Breakers was exhibited in Paris at the Salon of 1850, it was attacked as unartistic, crude, and socialistic. From then on, Courbet set up his own exhibits -- the beginning of the continuing practice of independent shows organized by artists themselves. --http://faculty.etsu.edu/kortumr/HUMT2320/realism/htmdescriptionpages/stonebreakers.htm [Apr 2006]
See also: 1850 - Gustave Courbet - Social realism
La Source (1862) - Gustave Courbet
La Source (1862) - Gustave Courbet
See also: Gustave Courbet - erotic art - 1862
Sleepers (1866) - Gustave Courbet
Le Sommeil/Les Dormeuses/Sleepers (1866) - Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet painted The Sleepers (1866) for the private collection of Turkish diplomat Khalil-Bey. The Origin of the World was also ordered by Khalil-Bey. These two paintings were never publicly shown until the late 20th century and were probably hidden behind curtains in Khalil-Bey's private premises. [Feb 2006]
See also: Gustave Courbet - erotic art - 1866
RealismIn the early 19th century the face of Europe, however, became radically altered by industrialization. Poverty, squalor, and desperation were to be the fate of the new working class created by the "revolution." In response to these changes going on in society, the movement of Realism emerged. Realism sought to accurately portray the conditions and hardships of the poor in the hopes of changing society. In contrast with Romanticism, which was essentially optimistic about mankind, Realism offered a stark vision of poverty and despair. Similarly, while Romanticism glorified nature, Realism portrayed life in the depths of an urban wasteland. Like Romanticism, Realism was a literary as well as an artistic movement. The great Realist painters include Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_art_history#Neoclassicism.2C_Romanticism.2C_Academism.2C_and_Realism [Apr 2005]
Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler
He shared his lover, Joanna Hiffernan with Gustave Courbet, as a model; it is thought he painted her as L'Origine du monde, leading to the breakup of Whistler's friendship with Courbet. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_McNeill_Whistler [Apr 2005]
Realism and Social Vision in Courbet and Proudhon (1980) - James Henry Rubin
Realism and Social Vision in Courbet and Proudhon (1980) - James Henry Rubin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Courbet was friends with Proudhon and supported the latter's views on societal change. Proudhon was avant-garde in politics, Courbet in the visual arts.
More on the origins of the avant-garde: http://www.journalofaestheticsandprotest.org/3/Katsiaficas.htm [Apr 2006]
See also: avant-garde - 1850s - Gustave Courbet - anarchism - realism
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