Courbet

Courbet

[koor-be]
Courbet, Gustave, 1819-77, French painter, b. Ornans. He moved to Paris in 1839 and studied there, learning chiefly by copying masterpieces in the Louvre. An avowed realist, Courbet was always at odds with vested authority, aesthetic or political. In 1847 his Wounded Man (Louvre) was rejected by the Salon, although two of his earlier pictures had been accepted. He first won wide attention with his After Dinner at Ornans (Lille) in 1849. The next year he exhibited his famous Funeral at Ornans (1849-50) and Stonebreakers (1849, both: Louvre). For his choice of subjects from ordinary life, and more especially for his obstinacy and audacity, his work was reviled as offensive to prevailing politics and aesthetic taste. Enjoying the drama, Courbet rose to defend his work as the expression of his newfound political radicalism. His statements did nothing to recommend the work to his enemies.

In 1855, Courbet exhibited the vast Painter's Studio (Louvre). Attacked by academic painters, he set up his own pavilion where he exhibited 40 of his paintings and issued a manifesto on realism. While he continued to provoke the establishment by submitting works to the Salon that were twice rejected in the mid-1860s, within that decade he triumphed as the leader of the realist school. His influence became enormous, reaching its height with his rejection of the cross of the Legion of Honor offered him by Napoleon III in 1870. Under the Commune of Paris (1871), Courbet was president of the artists' federation and initially active in the Commune; he was later unfairly held responsible, fined, and imprisoned for the destruction of the Vendôme column. In 1873 he fled to Switzerland, where he spent his few remaining years in poverty. Although his aesthetic theories were not destined to prevail, his painting is greatly admired for its frankness, vigor, and solid construction.

See his letters, ed. by ten-Doesschate Chu (1992); J. Lindsay, Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art (1973) and P. ten-Doesschate Chu, The Most Arrogant Man in France: Gustave Courbet and the Nineteenth-Century Media Culture (2007); studies by T. J. Clark (1973), S. Faunce and L. Nochlin (1988), M. Fried (1990), and J. H. Rubin (1997).

Detail from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and His Children in 1853, oil on elipsis

(born June 10, 1819, Ornans, France—died Dec. 31, 1877, La Tour-de-Peilz, Switz.) French painter. In 1839 he went to Paris, where, after receiving some formal training, he learned by copying Old Masters in the Louvre. His early works were controversial but received public and critical acclaim. In 1849 and 1850 he produced two of his greatest paintings: respectively, The Stone-Breakers and Burial at Ornans. Both works depart radically from the more-controlled, idealized pictures of either the Neoclassical or the Romantic school; they portray the life and emotions not of aristocrats but of humble peasants, and they do so with a realistic urgency. Such images of everyday life, characterized by a powerful naturalism and boldly portrayed, cast him as a revolutionary socialist. An intimate of many writers and philosophers of his day, he became the leader of the new school of Realism, which in time prevailed over other contemporary movements. His audacity and disrespect for authority were notorious. In 1865 his series depicting storms at sea astounded the art world and opened the way for Impressionism.

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Detail from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and His Children in 1853, oil on elipsis

(born June 10, 1819, Ornans, France—died Dec. 31, 1877, La Tour-de-Peilz, Switz.) French painter. In 1839 he went to Paris, where, after receiving some formal training, he learned by copying Old Masters in the Louvre. His early works were controversial but received public and critical acclaim. In 1849 and 1850 he produced two of his greatest paintings: respectively, The Stone-Breakers and Burial at Ornans. Both works depart radically from the more-controlled, idealized pictures of either the Neoclassical or the Romantic school; they portray the life and emotions not of aristocrats but of humble peasants, and they do so with a realistic urgency. Such images of everyday life, characterized by a powerful naturalism and boldly portrayed, cast him as a revolutionary socialist. An intimate of many writers and philosophers of his day, he became the leader of the new school of Realism, which in time prevailed over other contemporary movements. His audacity and disrespect for authority were notorious. In 1865 his series depicting storms at sea astounded the art world and opened the way for Impressionism.

Learn more about Courbet, Gustave with a free trial on Britannica.com.

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