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Gustave Courbet

A summary of Gustave Courbet and comparisons between his work and other artists during his time.
by

Jorge Parra

on 10 December 2011

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Transcript of Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet 1819 – 1877 Gustave Courbet was born on June 10, 1819 in Omans, France. His tempestuous personality was clear from an early age. An example of this was when he went before a clergy to have his sins expunged. According to a quote from Jack Lindsay's Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art, "The sins he revealed to his confessor so monstrously exceeded, in number and in kind, the iniquities appropriate to his tender age that nobody was willing to give him absolution…These successive rejections began to affect his reputation…To make sure he had forgotten nothing, Courbet had compiled a list of all the sins it would have been possible to commit, from the most trifling peccadillo to the darkest of crimes. "

Faunce, Sarah; Courbet, Gustave; and Nochlin, Linda 1988. While in school, Courbet wrote: “I went to the Collège de Besançon where I learned to despise teaching…I learned the least I could so as not to burden my head with things useless to me.” Courbet was clearly meant for something other than being a scholar. Under the assumption that he would continue his law studies, his father allowed him to move to Paris where he soon befriended Francois Bonvin, a realist artist. Bonvin introduced him to Dutch paintings and Spanish painters. Instead of enrolling in law courses, he began working in art studios rather than taking art classes because he felt that art could not be taught, it had to be learned from experience. Courbet's early works involved a large number of self-portraits. One of the most famous was "Self Portrait with Black Dog". Courbet painted this in 1842 and submitted it to an art Salon in 1844 where it was accepted and displayed.
Courbet was known for leading the French Realist movement in the 19th-century. He not only painted self-portraits but also landscapes, seascapes, and still-lifes. Some of his work was controversial compared to other artists of the time because his works addressed social issues such as the rural bourgeoisie, or middle class, and the working conditions of the poor. He did not focus on the perfection of line and form in his works because real life is not perfect. He focused on the spontaneous and rough handling of paint to suggest direct observation by the artist while depicting the little imperfections in nature. Courbet's depiction of the harshness of life challenged the contemporary ideas of art. Many of his critics argued that his works were vulgar and that he did not stay true to a painter's highest calling, which is "history painting". In history painting, the subject matter is a scene with narrative content from classical history. Courbet did not care for this. He believed that "the artists of one century [are] basically incapable of reproducing the aspect of a past of future century..." and that the only possible source for a living art is the artist's own experience.

Faunce, Sarah; Courbet, Gustave; and Nochlin, Linda 1988, p. 7. In 1849, "The Stone Breakers" was painted by Gustave Courbet in an attempt to show sympathy for the workers and disgust for the upper class. He shows sympathy for the men because of the back-breaking work they are doing while their bosses sit behind a desk and take all the profits. Unlike many other artists of the time, Courbet does not portray the workers as young, working-age, idealized people. He wants to portray the reality of society by depicting a boy far too young and a man far too old for such back-breaking work. And unlike everyone else, Courbet's brush strokes are rough to try and get across the harshness of life for the poor and to go against the current Neoclassical style of that time period.

Typical works of art before Courbet's realist movement included "Oath of the Horatii" by Jacques-Louis David. The work depicted a scene from Roman legend about a dispute between two cities; Rome and Alba Longa. Unlike Courbet's work where he focuses on the spontaneous and rough handling of paint, Louis David focused on the importance of the image by making the brushstrokes invisible. The fact that it depicts a story helps classify the piece as a typical neoclassical work. In Jean-Francois Millet's 1857 work "The Gleaners", Millet shows the typical idealized, hearty rural folk doing manual labor. This work was received poorly by the French upper classes because of the sympathetic way the workers are portrayed. Although it is considered realism, Millet tried to use Neoclassical features like clean and linear brush strokes which prevented it from being as raw and controversial as Courbet's work.
Gustave Courbet, Self Portrait with Black Dog, 1842 Jacques-Louis David, "Oath of the Horatii", 1784 Gustave Courbet, "The Stone Breakers", 1849 Jean-Francois Millet, "The Gleaners", 1857 Edouard Manet, "The Luncheon on the Grass", 1862-63 Jean-Francois Millet, "The Sower", 1850 In Jean-Francois Millet's "The Sower", Millet was criticized because of his heroic treatment of a lowly peasant at that time. This work was especially controversial because of the fact that the French rural poor were degrading and the middle class was being threatened by socialism. Millet followed Courbet's style to get across his views of society and how harsh it was on the poor. Courbet took art to the next level. He not only went against the idealized style of art of his time, he showed everyone what life was really like. He did not try to embellish his works with lies. He painted the truth; and whether or not people liked it, he knew the truth needed to be seen and someone had to stand up for the poor and lower social classes. "Jean-Francois Millet: The Sower." Carnegie Museum of Art. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.cmoa.org/searchcollections/details.aspx?item=1011680>. In 1863, Edouard Manet exhibited his work, "Luncheon on the Grass", at the Salon des Refuses. Inspired by Courbet, Manet's style of painting breaks with traditional works. Manet did not try to hide the brush strokes to depict greater realism in the work. The woman is not a smooth, flawless figure like other works of that time period. "Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass"." Art: Story in a Medium. N.p., n. d. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. <http://artstoryinamedium.blogspot.com/2009/01/manets-luncheon-on-grass.html>.
. "The Stonebreakers." Smart History. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/the-stonebreakers.html>. . "Gustave Courbet." Bohemianism and Counter-Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255-s01/boheme/courbet.htm>.
"Boston College." Jacques-Louis David: The Oath of the Horatii. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/his/CoreArt/art/neocl_dav_oath.html>. "Gustave Courbet." Rehs Galleries, Inc.. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <http://www.rehs.com/Gustave_Courbet_Bio.html>. Gustave Courbet, "The Gust of Wind", 1865 Courbet was successfully able to give the viewer a sense of danger and chaos thanks to the high level of detail in The Gust of Wind. Thanks to the thick build up of paint and visible brush strokes, Courbet managed to create a near three-dimensional image. He used small, delicate brush strokes to paint the mountains. The tree trunks and branches were painted by using the oily drags of a soft paintbrush and the leaves were made by stipple marks. "The Gust of Wind." MFAH. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.mfah.org/art/detail/gust-wind/>. Gustave Courbet, "The Rock of Ten Hours", 1855 Notice the rough texture and the use of impasto by Courbet in this work.
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