Gustave CourbetJean Désiré Gustave Courbet (Ornans, 10 giugno 1819 – La Tour-de-Peilz, 31 dicembre 1877) è stato un pittore francese.
|« Ho cinquant'anni ed ho sempre vissuto libero; lasciatemi finire libero la mia vita; quando sarò morto voglio che questo si dica di me: Non ha fatto parte di alcuna scuola, di alcuna chiesa, di alcuna istituzione, di alcuna accademia e men che meno di alcun sistema: l'unica cosa a cui è appartenuto è stata la libertà. »|
GiovinezzaJean Désiré Gustave Courbet nacque il 10 giugno 1819 ad Ornans, cittadina nel cuore della Franca Contea, incastonata nel massiccio del Giura (vicino la Svizzera). Era il figlio primogenito di Régis e Sylvie Oudot Courbet, una prosperosa famiglia di agricoltori proprietaria di un vasto patrimonio terriero; ebbe inoltre tre sorelle, Zoé, Zélie e Juliette. Per tutta la sua vita Courbet fu legato alla sua famiglia da un saldo vincolo affettivo, tanto da ritrarli diverse volte a fianco dei protagonisti delle sue composizioni; provò un'appassionata devozione anche per i suoi luoghi dell'infanzia, che spesso incluse nell'ambiente paesistico di diversi suoi quadri.
Ancora fanciullo studiò presso la scuola locale, dando prova di carattere ribelle e sanguigno, e apprendendo i primi rudimenti dell'arte pittorica dal padre, professore ad Ornans e allievo di Antoine-Jean Gros. Nel 1837 si trasferì presso la città universitaria di Besançon, seguendo la volontà dei genitori che desideravano che si avviasse alla professione di avvocato; qui, tuttavia, vedendo ben presto come privilegiasse gli studi pittorici, il giovane Gustave si accostò alle lezioni di Charles-Antonine Flajoulot, emulo di David. Anche quando partì per Parigi, malgrado si iscrisse subito alla facoltà di diritto, non seguì quasi mai i suoi corsi, preferendo coltivare i propri interessi artistici: Courbet, infatti, approdò in una città che serbava tracce di un grandissimo fervore artistico che vi accentrò artisti di grande nome, quali Géricault e Delacroix, e che trovava espressione nell'attività culturale vivacissima, animata dalle diverse esposizioni e dai musei. Visitò numerose volte il Louvre, ove ebbe modo di lavorare a confronto diretto con le opere di Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio e Tiziano; ebbe libero accesso anche alla «galleria spagnola» del re Luigi Filippo, dove scoprì i dipinti di Velázquez e Zurbarán, che si sarebbero rivelati decisivi per la sua formazione.
Il giovane Courbet a Parigi si divise tra un'intensa attività di studio e gli svaghi e i divertimenti concessi da una grande città. Intrecciò infatti una relazione amorosa con la modella Virginie Binet, che gli darà una figlia nel settembre 1847, e frequentò assiduamente la brasserie Andler, birreria scelta come luogo di ritrovo da diversi artisti e intellettuali parigini, quali Baudelaire, Champfleury e Proudhon. In ogni caso, Courbet non trascurò affatto gli studi pittorici, realizzando una serie di opere dove è già evidente il distacco dallo stile romantico: tra queste, notevoli sono Il disperato (1841), L'uomo con il cane nero (1842), L'uomo ferito (1844-54), e il Ritratto dell'artista (1845-46).
«... poiché proprio di realismo si tratta»L'«incrollabile fiducia in sé stesso e l'indomita tenacia» (per usare le parole dell'amico Castagnary) di Courbet furono presto premiate: nel 1848, sfruttando l'assenza della commissione giudicatrice, in occasione del Salon (che sino ad allora aveva accettato solo pochissime sue opere) il pittore ebbe l'occasione di esporre una decina di quadri e disegni. Egli acquistò in questo modo un minimo di notorietà, che gli consentì di inviare ulteriori dipinti alle edizioni successive della mostra: nel 1849 partecipò con il Dopocena ad Ornans, opera che - oltre a chiudere il periodo giovanile e a inaugurare quello della maturità - fu acquistata dallo Stato e gli valse pure una medaglia di seconda classe.
Non tutti i suoi quadri, però, vennero accolti così calorosamente: è questo il caso, sempre nel 1849, di Gli spaccapietre (opera andata distrutta durante la seconda guerra mondiale) e del Funerale a Ornans, presentato al Salon del 1850-51, che suscitò aspre critiche e polemiche nel mondo artistico parigino. Ad essere accusate, nel Funerale a Ornans, furono la trivialità dell'insieme, la «bruttezza» dei personaggi, l'audacia dell'artista nel servirsi di un formato grande, sino ad ora appannaggio esclusivo della pittura storica, quella considerata più alta e nobile; ad apprezzare il dipinto vi fu solo un critico, che profeticamente predisse che questo dipinto avrebbe simboleggiato «nella storia moderna le colonne d'Ercole del Realismo».
Ma se da una parte l'arte di Courbet suscitò notevole scandalo, dall'altra non mancarono i ferventi ammiratori: Alfred Bruyas, dopo aver visto Le bagnanti, ne rimase talmente colpito da acquistare il dipinto e ospitare il pittore in casa sua a Montpellier. D'ora innanzi Courbet, potendo contare sulla protezione di questo munifico mecenate, ebbe la possibilità di esprimere liberamente la propria arte; crebbe intanto anche la sua fama, tanto che le esposizioni dei suoi quadri iniziarono ad essere contese in tutta Europa, dalla Germania all'Austria.
La tela più rappresentativa di questo periodo è L'atelier dell'artista (1854-55), dove Courbet rese noti i principi ispiratori della propria arte; questa enorme allégorie réélle, tuttavia, venne rifiutata dal giurì del Salon per via delle sue dimensioni giudicate eccessive (circa quattro metri per sei). Oltraggiato da questo affronto, Courbet decise di organizzare una propria mostra personale, accanto dell'esibizione del Salon, intitolata simbolicamente Du réalisme: questa manifestazione, ospitata nei locali del cosiddetto «Padiglione del Realismo» (fatto erigere dal pittore a proprie spese), comprendeva ben quaranta dipinti corredati da un breve scritto programmatico e da un catalogo, nel quale dichiarò che «la qualifica di realista gli è stata imposta, come agli uomini del 1830 era stata imposta la qualifica di romantici». Fu in questo modo che Courbet venne salutato come il capo del nuovo indirizzo realista.
Il successoAl Salon del 1857 Courbet partecipò con il dipinto Ragazze sulle rive della Senna, grazie al quale giunse al culmine del successo; la sua arte iniziò a riscuotere consensi, e l'artista poté in questo modo godere della protezione di numerosi ammiratori.
Il maestro, ormai, non sapeva più come corrispondere alle commissioni che gli piovevano da tutte le parti: in questo periodo Courbet lavorò alacremente, dipingendo paesaggi, scene di caccia, nature morte floreali. Nel 1863 ribadì la propria indole caustica e irriverente con l'esecuzione de Il ritorno dall'assemblea, che raffigura un gruppo di preti e dignitari ecclesiastici con l'intelletto annebbiato dai fumi dell'alcol, spersi per una strada di campagna. L'opera suscitò aspre polemiche, venendo rifiutata con sdegno sia dal Salon del 1863 «per oltraggio alla morale religiosa» che dal Salon des Refusés; venne quindi acquistata da un contemporaneo di Courbet che, sconcertato dal soggetto raffigurato, la distrusse. A quest'epoca appartengono anche Venere e Psiche (1863), scena lesbica ritenuta «indecente» dai giudici del Salon, e L'origine du monde (1866) che, per via della sua grande carica erotica, rappresenta certamente l'opera più provocante realizzata da Courbet. Ad aver posato per il dipinto fu probabilmente Joanna Hiffernan, detta anche Jo l'Irlandese; era costei l'amante di James McNeill Whistler, e successivamente di Courbet che, quando la conobbe, la elesse a sua musa ispiratrice per diversi suoi dipinti (notevole è la serie Jo, la belle irlandaise, realizzata fra il 1865 e il 1866).
Nel 1867 Courbet decise di contrapporre all'ufficialità dell'Esposizione Universale del 1867, che pure gli espose ben nove dipinti, un'altra mostra personale, stavolta ospitata in un edificio eretto per l'occasione a Place de l'Alma; nelle sale del padiglione si raccolsero oltre cento pitture. Nell'estate del 1869 soggiornò a Étretat, in Normandia; Courbet colse spunti e ispirazione dalla selvaggia bellezza di queste terre, realizzando Il mare in burrasca e La falesia di Etretat dopo la tempesta. Ambedue le tele vennero esposte al Salon del 1870, dove riscossero plausi e lodi da parte di tutti, con un successo di critica che consolidò definitivamente la sua fama.
Courbet e la Comune di Parigi
|(FR) « En 1870, Gustave Courbet est au sommet de sa gloire. Sept ans plus tard, il meurt dans l'oubli, déchu et exilé. Entre ces deux dates, Courbet vit l'une des crises les plus violentes de l'histoire de France: la Commune »||(IT) « Nel 1870, Gustave Courbet è all'apice della sua gloria. Sette anni dopo, muore nell'oblio, decaduto e in esilio. Tra queste due date, Courbet vive uno dei periodi di crisi più violenti della storia francese: la Comune »|
Nel settembre del 1870, inoltre, chiese al governo di Difesa nazionale l'abbattimento della colonna di place Vendôme, eretta da Napoleone Bonaparte per commemorare la vittoria francese alla battaglia di Austerlitz e ottenuta fondendo i cannoni austriaci. Courbet manifestò un sentito disprezzo verso questo simbolo delle glorie napoleoniche e di oppressione:
« La colonne Vendôme est un monument dénué de toute valeur artistique, tendant à perpétuer par son expression les idées de guerre et de conquête qui étaient dans la dynastie impériale, mais que réprouve le sentiment d’une nation républicaine »
|(IT) « La colonna Vendôme è un monumento privo di ogni valore artistico e tendente a perpetuare, con il suo significato, le idee di guerra e di conquista respinte dal sentimento di una nazione repubblicana »|
La lunga serie di guai giudiziari a carico di Courbet ebbe inizio infatti il 7 giugno 1871 quando venne arrestato dalle milizie del presidente Thiers, nel frattempo rifugiatosi a Versailles. Il pittore, accusato dal tribunale di guerra di «essersi […] reso complice, abusando della sua autorità» dello smantellamento della colonna, venne condannato a sei mesi di carcere (alla prigione di Sainte-Pélagie) e a una multa di cinquecento franchi, cui si aggiunsero 6850 franchi di spese penali; durante la detenzione eseguì una significativa serie di nature morte. La pena pecuniaria, già ingente, divenne ancora più esorbitante quando Courbet, a seguito di un nuovo processo nel 1873, venne sanzionato per un totale di 323 091 franchi e 68 centesimi, pagabile a rete, così da rimborsare le spese di ricostruzione della colonna Vendôme.
Ultimi anniL'esclusione dal Salon del 1872 e il timore di essere di nuovo imprigionato spinsero Courbet a lasciare la Francia e a rifugiarsi in Svizzera, dove intendeva soggiornare fino a quando la situazione in patria non si sarebbe mitigata. Nonostante venisse accolto benevolmente dai cittadini elvetici, il declino di Courbet come uomo e come artista era ormai inarrestabile. Fiaccato dalla commiserazione e dalla sofferenza per la condizione di esule, egli si diede a uno stile di vita dissipato, annegando i propri dispiaceri negli alcolici; anche la sua produzione risentì da questa condizione, tanto che realizzò tutt'al più opere mediocri.
Per via della sua attitudine a bere Courbet, già afflitto da una grave obesità, ben presto contrasse una cirrosi epatica, che lo condusse a morte il 31 dicembre 1877 a La Tour-de-Peilz, presso Vevey: il giorno successivo avrebbe dovuto pagare la prima rata al governo francese per la ricostruzione della colonna Vendôme. Venne sepolto nel cimitero di Ornans.
Concezione pittorica e stileGustave Courbet è considerato l'iniziatore ed il principale animatore del Realismo francese, movimento pittorico che tende ad una rappresentazione fedele della realtà, indagata con un linguaggio diretto e privo di abbellimenti. In questo modo, i dipinti di Courbet sono caratterizzati da un'elevatissima verità di rappresentazione, che si sostanzia nella spontaneità dei soggetti e delle composizioni, senza imposizioni di alcun genere. Il rifiuto di Courbet verso le messe in posa e le esigenze del decoro emerge ne La filatrice, dove egli ritrae di nascosto sua sorella che, vinta dalla fatica, si addormenta.
In questo modo la realtà cessa di essere idealizzata ed acquisisce una dignità prima impensabile: nei quadri di Courbet, infatti, a essere degni di rappresentazione non sono solo il bello e l'armonico, così come imposto dai dettami della pittura romantica, ma anche quei momenti non «nobili», triviali, che facendo parte della quotidianità restano comunque in grado di qualificare l'arte.
|(FR) « La peinture est un art essentialment concret et ne peut consister que dans la représentation des choses réelles et existantes. Un object abstrait, non visible, n'est pas du domaine de la peinture. L'imagination dans l'art consiste à savoir trouver l'expression la plus complète d'une chose existante, mais jamais à supposer ou à créer cette chose même. Le beau est dans la nature, et se rencontre dans la réalité sous les formes les plus diverses. Dès qu'on le trouve, il appartient à l'art, ou plutôt à l'artiste qui sait l'y voir. Le beau, comme la verité est une chose relative au temps où l'on vit et à l'individu apte à le concevoir. L'expression du beau est en raison directe de la puissance de perception acquise par l'artiste. Il ne peut pas y avoir d'écoles, il n'y a que des peintres »||(IT) « La pittura è un'arte essenzialmente concreta e può consistere solo nella rappresentazione delle cose reali ed esistenti. Un oggetto astratto, non visibile, non rientra nel dominio della pittura. L'immaginazione nell'arte consiste nel saper trovare l'espressione più completa di una cosa esistente, ma mai nel supporre o creare questa stessa cosa. Il bello è nella natura, e si incontra nella realtà sotto le forme più diverse. Non appena lo si trova, esso appartiene all'arte o piuttosto all'artista che sa vedervelo. Il bello, come la verità è una cosa relativa al tempo in cui si vive ed all'individuo atto a concepirlo. L'espressione del bello è in proporzione diretta alla potenza di percezione acquisita dall'artista. Non possono esserci scuole, ci sono solo pittori »|
RetaggioL'arte realista di Courbet ebbe influenza su diversi pittori a lui successivi, specialmente impressionisti. Paul Cézanne, che si ispirò a Courbet per il particolare utilizzo della spatola e per il ricorso ad un impasto denso e ai colori scuri, ricordò con affetto e venerazione le sue pitture di paesaggio:
|« Il suo grande contributo è l'ingresso lirico della natura, dell'odore delle foglie bagnate, delle pareti della foresta coperte di muschio, nella pittura del diciannovesimo secolo [...]. E la neve, Courbet ha dipinto la neve come nessuno! »|
Tra i diversi debitori dell'arte di Courbet, infine, degni di menzione sono Carolus-Duran, Antoine Guillemet, Henri Fantin-Latour e Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Proudhon et ses enfants(1865) Proudhon and his children
Courbet's paintings of the late 1840s and early 1850s brought him his first recognition. They challenged convention by depicting unidealized peasants and workers, often on a grand scale traditionally reserved for paintings of religious or historical subjects. Courbet's subsequent paintings were mostly of a less overtly political character: landscapes, seascapes, hunting scenes, nudes and still lifes. He was imprisoned for six months in 1871 for his involvement with the Paris Commune, and lived in exile in Switzerland from 1873 until his death.
I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: 'He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.'
BiographyGustave Courbet was born in 1819 to Régis and Sylvie Oudot Courbet in Ornans (department of Doubs). Being a prosperous farming family, anti-monarchical feelings prevailed in the household. (His maternal grandfather fought in the French Revolution.) Courbet's sisters, Zoé, Zélie and Juliette, were his first models for drawing and painting. After moving to Paris he often returned home to Ornans to hunt, fish and find inspiration.
He went to Paris in 1839 and worked at the studio of Steuben and Hesse. An independent spirit, he soon left, preferring to develop his own style by studying the paintings of Spanish, Flemish and French masters in the Louvre, and painting copies of their work.
His first works were an Odalisque inspired by the writing of Victor Hugo and a Lélia illustrating George Sand, but he soon abandoned literary influences, choosing instead to base his paintings on observed reality. Among his paintings of the early 1840s are several self-portraits, Romantic in conception, in which the artist portrayed himself in various roles. These include Self-Portrait with Black Dog (c. 1842–44, accepted for exhibition at the 1844 Paris Salon), the theatrical Self-Portrait which is also known as Desperate Man (c. 1843–45), Lovers in the Countryside (1844, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon), The Sculptor (1845), The Wounded Man (1844–54, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), The Cellist, Self-Portrait (1847, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, shown at the 1848 Salon), and Man with a Pipe (1848–49, Musée Fabre, Montpellier).
Trips to the Netherlands and Belgium in 1846–47 strengthened Courbet's belief that painters should portray the life around them, as Rembrandt, Hals and other Dutch masters had. By 1848, he had gained supporters among the younger critics, the Neo-romantics and Realists, notably Champfleury.
Courbet achieved his first Salon success in 1849 with his painting After Dinner at Ornans. The work, reminiscent of Chardin and Le Nain, earned Courbet a gold medal and was purchased by the state. The gold medal meant that his works would no longer require jury approval for exhibition at the Salon—an exemption Courbet enjoyed until 1857 (when the rule changed).
In 1849-50, Courbet painted Stone-Breakers (destroyed in the Allied Bombing of Dresden in 1945), which Proudhon admired as an icon of peasant life; it has been called "the first of his great works". The painting was inspired by a scene Courbet witnessed on the roadside. He later explained to Champfleury and the writer Francis Wey: "It is not often that one encounters so complete an expression of poverty and so, right then and there I got the idea for a painting. I told them to come to my studio the next morning."
RealismCourbet's work belonged neither to the predominant Romantic nor Neoclassical schools. History painting, which the Paris Salon esteemed as a painter's highest calling, did not interest him, for he believed that "the artists of one century [are] basically incapable of reproducing the aspect of a past or future century ..." Instead, he maintained that the only possible source for living art is the artist's own experience. He and Jean-Francois Millet would find inspiration painting the life of peasants and workers.
Courbet painted figurative compositions, landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes. He courted controversy by addressing social issues in his work, and by painting subjects that were considered vulgar, such as the rural bourgeoisie, peasants, and working conditions of the poor. His work, along with that of Honoré Daumier and Jean-François Millet, became known as Realism. For Courbet realism dealt not with the perfection of line and form, but entailed spontaneous and rough handling of paint, suggesting direct observation by the artist while portraying the irregularities in nature. He depicted the harshness in life, and in so doing challenged contemporary academic ideas of art.
A Burial at OrnansThe Salon of 1850–1851 found him triumphant with The Stone Breakers, the Peasants of Flagey and A Burial at Ornans. The Burial, one of Courbet's most important works, records the funeral of his grand uncle which he attended in September 1848. People who attended the funeral were the models for the painting. Previously, models had been used as actors in historical narratives, but in Burial Courbet said he "painted the very people who had been present at the interment, all the townspeople". The result is a realistic presentation of them, and of life in Ornans.
The vast painting—it measures 10 by 22 feet (3.1 by 6.6 meters)—drew both praise and fierce denunciations from critics and the public, in part because it upset convention by depicting a prosaic ritual on a scale which would previously have been reserved for a religious or royal subject.
According to the art historian Sarah Faunce, "In Paris the Burial was judged as a work that had thrust itself into the grand tradition of history painting, like an upstart in dirty boots crashing a genteel party, and in terms of that tradition it was of course found wanting." The painting lacks the sentimental rhetoric that was expected in a genre work: Courbet's mourners make no theatrical gestures of grief, and their faces seemed more caricatured than ennobled. The critics accused Courbet of a deliberate pursuit of ugliness.
Eventually, the public grew more interested in the new Realist approach, and the lavish, decadent fantasy of Romanticism lost popularity. The artist well understood the importance of the painting. Courbet said of it, "The Burial at Ornans was in reality the burial of Romanticism."
Courbet became a celebrity, and was spoken of as a genius, a "terrible socialist" and a "savage". He actively encouraged the public's perception of him as an unschooled peasant, while his ambition, his bold pronouncements to journalists, and his insistence on depicting his own life in his art gave him a reputation for unbridled vanity.
Courbet associated his ideas of realism in art with political anarchism, and, having gained an audience, he promoted democratic and socialist ideas by writing politically motivated essays and dissertations. His familiar visage was the object of frequent caricature in the popular French press.
In 1850, he wrote to a friend:
...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.During the 1850s, Courbet painted numerous figurative works using common folk and friends as his subjects, such as Village Damsels (1852), the Wrestlers (1853), Bathers (1853), The Sleeping Spinner (1853), and The Wheat Sifters (1854).
The Artist's StudioIn 1855, Courbet submitted fourteen paintings for exhibition at the Exposition Universelle. Three were rejected for lack of space, including A Burial at Ornans and his other monumental canvas The Artist's Studio. Refusing to be denied, Courbet took matters into his own hands. He displayed forty of his paintings, including The Artist's Studio, in his own gallery called The Pavilion of Realism (Pavillon du Réalisme) which was a temporary structure that he erected next door to the official Salon-like Exposition Universelle.
The work is an allegory of Courbet's life as a painter, seen as an heroic venture, in which he is flanked by friends and admirers on the right, and challenges and opposition to the left. Friends on the right include the art critics Champfleury, and Charles Baudelaire, and art collector Alfred Bruyas. On the left are figures (priest, prostitute, grave digger, merchant and others) who represent what Courbet described in a letter to Champfleury as "the other world of trivial life, the people, misery, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, the people who live off death."
In the foreground of the left-hand side is a man with dogs, who was not mentioned in Courbet's letter to Champfleury. X-rays show he was painted in later, but his role in the painting is important: he is an allegory of the then current French Emperor, Napoleon III, identified by his famous hunting dogs and iconic twirled moustache. By placing him on the left, Courbet publicly shows his disdain for the emperor and depicts him as a criminal, suggesting that his "ownership" of France is an illegal one.
Although artists like Eugène Delacroix were ardent champions of his effort, the public went to the show mostly out of curiosity and to deride him. Attendance and sales were disappointing, but Courbet's status as a hero to the French avant-garde became assured. He was admired by the American James McNeill Whistler, and he became an inspiration to the younger generation of French artists including Édouard Manet and the Impressionist painters. The Artist's Studio was recognized as a masterpiece by Delacroix, Baudelaire, and Champfleury, if not by the public.
Realist manifestoCourbet wrote a Realist manifesto for the introduction to the catalogue of this independent, personal exhibition, echoing the tone of the period's political manifestos. In it he asserts his goal as an artist "to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my epoch according to my own estimation."
The title of Realist was thrust upon me just as the title of Romantic was imposed upon the men of 1830. Titles have never given a true idea of things: if it were otherwise, the works would be unnecessary.
Without expanding on the greater or lesser accuracy of a name which nobody, I should hope, can really be expected to understand, I will limit myself to a few words of elucidation in order to cut short the misunderstandings.
I have studied the art of the ancients and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I no longer wanted to imitate the one than to copy the other; nor, furthermore, was it my intention to attain the trivial goal of "art for art's sake". No! I simply wanted to draw forth, from a complete acquaintance with tradition, the reasoned and independent consciousness of my own individuality.
To know in order to do, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art – this is my goal. (Gustave Courbet, 1855)
NotorietyIn the Salon of 1857 Courbet showed six paintings. These included Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer), depicting two prostitutes under a tree, as well as the first of many hunting scenes Courbet was to paint during the remainder of his life: Hind at Bay in the Snow and The Quarry.
Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine, painted in 1856, provoked a scandal. Art critics accustomed to conventional, "timeless" nude women in landscapes were shocked by Courbet's depiction of modern women casually displaying their undergarments.
By exhibiting sensational works alongside hunting scenes, of the sort that had brought popular success to the English painter Edwin Landseer, Courbet guaranteed himself "both notoriety and sales". During the 1860s, Courbet painted a series of increasingly erotic works such as Femme nue couchée.
This culminated in The Origin of the World (L'Origine du monde) (1866), which depicts female genitalia and was not publicly exhibited until 1988, and Sleep (1866), featuring two women in bed. The latter painting became the subject of a police report when it was exhibited by a picture dealer in 1872.
Until about 1861, Napoléon's regime had exhibited authoritarian characteristics, using press censorship to prevent the spread of opposition, manipulating elections, and depriving Parliament the right to free debate or any real power. In the 1860s, however, Napoléon III made more concessions to placate his liberal opponents. This change began by allowing free debates in Parliament and public reports of parliamentary debates. Press censorship, too, was relaxed and culminated in the appointment of the Liberal Émile Ollivier, previously a leader of the opposition to Napoléon's regime, as the de facto Prime Minister in 1870. As a sign of appeasement to the Liberals who admired Courbet, Napoleon III nominated him to the Legion of Honour in 1870. His refusal of the cross of the Legion of Honour angered those in power but made him immensely popular with those who opposed the prevailing regime.
Courbet and the Paris CommuneOn 4 September 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Courbet made a proposal that later came back to haunt him. He wrote a letter to the Government of National Defense, proposing that the column in the Place Vendôme, erected by the Napoleon I to honour the victories of the French Army, be taken down. He wrote:
In as much as the Vendôme Column is a monument devoid of all artistic value, tending to perpetuate by its expression the ideas of war and conquest of the past imperial dynasty, which are reproved by a republican nation's sentiment, citizen Courbet expresses the wish that the National Defense government will authorize him to disassemble this column."Courbet proposed that the Column be moved to a more appropriate place, such as the Hotel des Invalides, a military hospital. He also wrote an open letter addressed to the German Army and to German artists, proposing that German and French cannons should be melted down and crowned with a liberty cap, and made into a new monument on Place Vendôme, dedicated to the federation of the German and French people. The Government of National Defense did nothing about his suggestion to tear down the column, but it was not forgotten.
On 18 March, in the aftermath of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, a revolutionary government called the Paris Commune briefly took power in the city. Courbet played an active part, and organized a Federation of Artists, which held its first meeting on 5 April in the Grand Amphitheater of the School of Medicine. Some three hundred to four hundred painters, sculptors, architects and decorators attended. There were some famous names on the list of members, including André Gill, Honoré Daumier, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Pottier, Jules Dalou, and Eduard Manet. Manet was not in Paris during the Commune, and did not attend, and Corot, who was seventy-five years old, stayed in a country house and in his studio during the Commune, not taking part in the political events. Courbet chaired the meeting and proposed that the Louvre and the Museum of the Luxembourg Palace, the two major art museums of Paris, closed during the uprising, be reopened as soon as possible, and that the traditional annual exhibit called the Salon be held as in years past, but with radical differences. He proposed that the Salon should be free of any government interference or rewards to preferred artists; there would be no medals or government commissions given. Furthermore, he called for the abolition of the most famous state institutions of French art; the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the School of Rome, the School of Athens, and the Fine Arts section of the Institute of France.
On 12 April, the Executive Committee of the Commune gave Courbet, though he was not yet officially a member of the Commune, the assignment of opening the museums and organizing the Salon. At the same meeting, they issued the following decree: “The Column of the Place Vendôme will be demolished.” On 16 April, special elections were held to replace more moderate members of the Commune who had resigned their seats, and Courbet was elected as a delegate for the 6th arrondissement. He was given the title of Delegate of Fine Arts, and on 21 April he was also made a member of the Commission on Education. At the meeting of the Commission on 27 April, the minutes reported that Courbet requested the demolition of the Vendôme column be carried out, and that column would be replaced by an allegorical figure representing the taking of power of the Commune on 18 March.
Nonetheless, Courbet was a dissident by nature, and he was soon in opposition with the majority of the Commune members on some of its measures. He was one of a minority of Commune Members which opposed the creation of a Committee on Public Safety, modeled on the committee of the same name which carried out the reign of terror during the French Revolution.
Courbet opposed the Commune on another more serious matter; the arrest of his friend Gustave Chaudey, a prominent socialist, magistrate, and journalist, whose portrait Courbet had painted. The popular Commune newspaper, Le Père Duchesne, accused Chaudey, when he was briefly deputy mayor of the 9th arrondissement before the Commune was formed, of ordering soldiers to fire on a crowd that had surrounded the Hotel de Ville. Courbet’s opposition was of no use; on 23 May 1871, in the final days of the Commune, Chaudey was shot by a Commune firing squad. According to some sources Courbet resigned from the Commune in protest.
On 13 May, on the proposal of Courbet, the Paris house of Adolphe Thiers, the chief executive of the French government, was demolished, and his art collection confiscated. Courbet proposed that the confiscated art be given to the Louvre and other museums, but the director of the Louvre refused to accept it. On 16 May, just nine days before the fall of the Commune, in a large ceremony with military bands and photographers, the Vendôme column was pulled down and broke into pieces. Some witnesses said Courbet was there, others denied it. The following day, the Federation of Artists debated dismissing directors of the Louvre and of the Luxembourg museums, suspected by some in the Commune of having secret contacts with the French government, and appointed new heads of the museums.
According to one legend, Courbet defended the Louvre and other museums against “looting mobs”, but there are no records of any such attacks on the museums. The only real threat to the Louvre came during "Bloody Week”, 21–28 May 1871, when a unit of Communards, led by a Commune general, Jules Bergeret, set fire to the Tuileries Palace, next to the Louvre. The fire spread to the library of the Louvre, which was completely destroyed, but the efforts of museum curators and firemen saved the art gallery.
After the final suppression of the Commune by the French army on 28 May, Courbet went into hiding in apartments of different friends. He was arrested on 7 June. At his trial before a military tribunal on 14 August, Courbet argued that he had only joined the Commune to pacify it, and that he had wanted to move the Vendôme Column, not destroy it. He said he had only belonged to the Commune for a short period of time, and rarely attended its meetings. He was convicted, but given a lighter sentence than other Commune leaders; six months in prison and a fine of five hundred Francs. Serving part of his sentence in the prison of Saint-Pelagie in Paris, he was allowed an easel and paints, but he could not have models pose for him. He did a famous series of still-life paintings of flowers and fruit.
Exile and deathCourbet finished his prison sentence on 2 March 1872, but his problems caused by the destruction of the Vendôme Column were still not over. In 1873, the newly elected president of the Republic, Patrice Mac-Mahon, announced plans to rebuild the column, with the cost to be paid by Courbet. Unable to pay, Courbet went into a self-imposed exile in Switzerland to avoid bankruptcy. In the following years, he participated in Swiss regional and national exhibitions. Surveilled by the Swiss intelligence service, he enjoyed in the small Swiss art world the reputation as head of the “realist school” and inspired younger artists such as Auguste Baud-Bovy and Ferdinand Hodler.
Important works from this period include several paintings of trout, "hooked and bleeding from the gills", that have been interpreted as allegorical self-portraits of the exiled artist. Courbet also worked on sculpture during his exile. Previously, in the early 1860s, he had produced a few sculptures, one of which—the Fisherman of Chavots (1862)—he donated to Ornans for a public fountain, but it was removed after Courbet's arrest.
On 4 May 1877, Courbet was told the estimated cost of reconstructing the Vendôme Column; 323,091 francs and 68 centimes. He was given the option paying the fine in yearly installments of 10,000 francs for the next 33 years, until his 91st birthday. On 31 December 1877, a day before the first installment was due, Courbet died, aged 58, in La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, of a liver disease aggravated by heavy drinking.
LegacyCourbet was admired by many younger artists. Claude Monet included a portrait of Courbet in his own version of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe from 1865–1866 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). Courbet's particular kind of realism influenced many artists to follow, notably among them the German painters of the Leibl circle, James McNeill Whistler, and Paul Cézanne. Courbet's influence can also be seen in the work of Edward Hopper, whose Bridge in Paris (1906) and Approaching a City (1946) have been described as Freudian echoes of Courbet's The Source of the Loue and The Origin of the World. His pupils included Henri Fantin-Latour, Hector Hanoteau and Olaf Isaachsen.
Courbet and CubismTwo 19th-century artists prepared the way for the emergence of Cubism in the 20th century: Courbet and Cézanne. Cézanne’s contributions are well-known. Courbet’s importance was announced by Guillaume Apollinaire, poet-spokesperson for the Cubists. Writing in Les Peintres Cubistes (1913) he declared, "Courbet is the father of the new painters."
Both artists sought to transcend the conventional methods of rendering nature; Cézanne through a dialectical method revealing the process of seeing, Courbet by his materialism. The Cubists would combine these two approaches in developing a revolution in art.
On a formal level, Courbet wished to convey the physical characteristics of what he was painting: its density, weight and texture. Art critic John Berger said: "No painter before Courbet was ever able to emphasize so uncompromisingly the density and weight of what he was painting." This emphasis on material reality endowed his subjects with dignity. Berger observed that the Cubist painters "were at great pains to establish the physical presence of what they were representing. And in this they are the heirs of Courbet."
Selfportrait with black dog (1842), Petit Palais
Quotes of Gustave Courbet
- sorted chrologically, by date of the quotes
1840 - 1860
- We finally saw the sea, the horizonless sea – how odd for a
mountaindweller. We saw the beautiful boats that sail on it. It is too
inviting, one feels carried away, one would leave to see the whole
- In a letter to his parents (1841); as quoted in Image of the Sea: Oceanic Consciousness in the Romantic Century, Howard F. Isham, publisher: Peter Lang, 2004, Chapter 'Waterworlds', p. 307
- Courbet is reporting his experiences of a boat-trip with a friend over the Seine to the port of Le Havre; he made also a sketchbook of this trip in the Summer of 1841
- In the coming year I must do a large painting which will definitely
get me recognized for what I truly am, for I want all or nothing. All
those little paintings are not the only thing that I can do.. .I want to
do large-scale painting. One thing is certain, that within five years, I
must have a name in Paris; that is what I strive for. It's hard to get
there, I know.. .To move faster I only lack one thing, and that's money,
in order to boldly execute what I have in mind. [very soon after this
letter he attacked a canvas of eight feet high and ten feet wide]
- In a letter (10 March 1845); as quoted in 'Gustave Courbet', by Georges Riat, Parkstone International, 2015,
- ..there's nothing harder in the world than making art, particularly
when no one understands it. Women want portraits without shadow, men
want to be dressed up in their Sunday best; there's no way out. To earn
money with things like that, you'd be better of walking on a treadmill.
At least than you would not be abdicating your convictions.
- In his letter (Paris, January 1846), as quoted in 'Gustave Courbet', by Georges Riat, Parkstone International, 2015,
- It is the most wretched spectacle you can imagine. I won't fight for
two reasons: firstly because I have no faith in waging war with guns
and cannons, and it is not part of my creed. For ten years I have been
fighting a war of wits. I would not be true to myself if I acted
otherwise. Secondly, I have no weapons and I won't be persuaded. So you
have nothing to fear where I am concerned
- In a letter to his parents, (June 1848); as quoted 'Gustave Courbet', by Georges Riat, Parkstone International, 2015,
- I've already done studies [for his large-scale painting w:The Burial at Ornans
] of the mayor, who weighs 400, the parish priest, the justice of the
peace, the cross bearer, the notary Marlet, the assistant mayor, my
friends, my father, the choirboys, the grave digger, two old
revolutionaries from '93...
- Remark to w:Champfleury, (End of 1849); as quoted in 'Gustave Courbet', by Georges Riat, Parkstone International, 15 Sep 2015,
- It is not often that one encounters so complete an expression of
poverty and so, right then and there I got the idea for a painting. I
told them to come to my studio the next morning.
- Quote, (1850's) explaining to w:Champfleury and the writer Francis Wey; as quoted on Wikipedia; Masanès, Fabrice 2006, p. 31
- Courbet explains the start of his painting 'w:Stone-Breakers' [painted in 1849-50 / destroyed in the Allied Bombing of Dresden in 1945]; this painting was inspired by a scene Courbet witnessed on the roadside.
- ..in our civilized society I must lead the life of a savage. I must
free myself even from governments. My sympathies lies with the people; I
must go to them directly. I must draw my wisdom from them, and they
must give me life. For that reason I have just embarked on the grand,
independent and vagabond life of the bohemian.
- In a letter, (1850) to his friend Francis Wey; as quoted in 'Gustave Courbet', by Georges Riat, Parkstone International, 15 Sep 2015,
- ..[ I ] painted the very people who had been present at the
interment, all the townspeople. [Courbet pictured with his painting 'A
Burial at Ornans' (1849/50) the funeral of his grand uncle which he
attended in September 1848. People who attended the funeral became the
models for the painting; no professional models]
- I heard the comments of the crowd in front of the painting of
'Burial at Ornans', I had the courage to read the nonsense that was
printed regarding this picture and I wrote this article.. [in Le
Messager de l'Assemblée]
- article in 'Le Messager de l'Assemblée' (25th & 26th February 1851); as quoted in 'Posterity', Musée-dOrsay
- In spite of being assailed by hypochondria, I have launched into an
enormous painting 20 feet by 12, perhaps even bigger than 'The Burial',
which will show that I am still alive, and so is Realism, as Realism
exists.. .It is society at its best, its worst, its average. In short,
it's my way of seeing society with all its interests and passions. It's
the whole world coming to me to be painted..
- In a letter of Courbet to his friend w:Champfleury, (Autumn 1854); as quoted in 'Courbet Speaks', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
- When I got back to Ornans, I spent a few days hunting. I quite like
the subject of violent exercise.. .It makes the most surprising painting
you can imagine. There are thirty life-size figures in it. It is the
moral and physical history of my studio
- Letter from Courbet to Bruyas, (December 1854); as quoted in 'Courbet Speaks', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
Realist Manifesto (1851)
- The title of Realist was thrust upon me just as the title of Romantic was imposed upon the men of 1830. Titles have never given a true idea of things: if it were otherwise, the works would be unnecessary.
- Without expanding on the greater or lesser accuracy of a name which nobody, I should hope, can really be expected to understand, I will limit myself to a few words of elucidation in order to cut short the misunderstandings.
- I have studied the art of the ancients and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I no longer wanted to imitate the one than to copy the other; nor, furthermore, was it my intention to attain the trivial goal of "art for art's sake". No! I simply wanted to draw forth, from a complete acquaintance with tradition, the reasoned and independent consciousness of my own individuality.
- To know in order to do, that was my idea. To be in a position to
translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according
to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in
short, to create living art – this is my goal. (Gustave Courbet, 1855) -
- In: 'Realist manifesto', Gustave Courbet, (1851); as quoted at 'Nineteenth–Century French Realism', The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn, Timeline of Art History
- Courbet wrote his 'Realist manifesto' for the introduction to the catalogue of his independent, personal exhibition at the Pavilion of Realism outside the 1855 Universal Exhibition, echoing the tone of the period's political manifestos of those days
1861 - 1877
- [An artist must apply] his personal faculties to the ideas and the
events of the times in which he lives.. .[A]rt in painting should
consist only of the representation of things which that are visible and
tangible to the artist. Every age should be represented only by its own
artists, that is to say, by the artist who have lived in it. I also
maintain that painting is an essentially concrete art form and can exist
only of the representation of both real and existing things.. .An
abstract object, not visible, nonexistent, is not within the domain of
- In an open letter ('Credo'), (Paris, end of December 1861), published in the 'Courier du Dimanche', (addressed to prospective students); as quoted in Letters of Gustave Courbet, transl. & ed. Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, University of Chicago Press 1992, pp. 203-204
- I have never seen an angel. Show me an angel, and I'll paint one.
- Quoted by Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to brother Theo (July, 1885); in The letters of Vincent van Gogh, ed. Ronal de Leeuw - Penguin, New York, 1996, p. 302
- I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end
my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: 'He belonged to no
school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to
any régime except the régime of liberty.'
- In a letter of Gustave Courbet (1869); in Letters of Gustave Courbet, 1992, University of Chicago Press, transl. Petra Ten-Doesschate Chu, ISBN 0226116530
- Here I am, because of the People of Paris [ w:Paris Commune
], up to my neck in politics. President of the Federation of Artists,
member of the Commune committee, city council delegate and delegate for
Public Education: the four most important posts in Paris. I get up, I
have breakfast, and I preside and sit on committees twelve hours a day.
Now my head is starting to spin. But in spite of all this worry and
trying to understand unfamiliar things, I am really happy..
- Letter to his parents (30th April 1870); as quoted in 'Courbet Speaks', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
- Attendu que la colonne Vendôme est un monument dénué de toute valeur artistique, tendant à perpétuer par son expression les idées de guerre et de conquête qui étaient dans la dynastie impériale, mais que réprouve le sentiment d'une nation républicaine, [le citoyen Courbet] émet le vœu que le gouvernement de la Défense nationale veuille bien l'autoriser à déboulonner cette colonne.
- (In as much as the Vendôme Column is a monument devoid of all
artistic value, tending to perpetuate by its expression the ideas of war
and conquest of the past imperial dynasty, which are reproved by a
republican nation's sentiment, citizen Courbet expresses the wish that
the National Defense government will authorize him to disassemble this
- In a letter (4 September 1870) to the Government of National Defense, (proposing that the column in the Place Vendôme in Paris, erected by Napoleon I - to honour the victories of the French Army - be taken down).
Quotes about Gustave Courbet
- sorted chronologicall, by date of the quote
1850 - 1860
- 'The Burial at Ornus' [wrongly cited in the catalogue of the Paris' Salon; it was: 'w:The Burial at Ornans'!] is a vulgar and blasphemous caricature, a signboard painting, which is full of hatred even for art; what a sad thing, in fact, when a true talent [Courbet!] tries to win the facile and extravagant applause of the nineteenth century through the exaggeration of ugliness.
- Philippe de Chiennevières, (January 1851) in 'Lettres de l'Art francais'; as quoted in 'Gustave Courbet', by Georges Riat, Parkstone International, 15 Sep 2015,
- There have always been two schools of thought in painting: that of
the Idealists and that of the Realists.. .Monsieur Courbet belongs to
the second school, but he differs from it in that he seems to have taken
an ideal opposite to the usual ideal: whereas the straightforward
Realists are happy to copy nature as they see it, our young painter,
parodying for his own benefit the verses of Nicolas Boileau Despréaux,
seems to be saying: 'Only the ugly is beautiful, only the ugly is
likeable.' It is not enough for the people to be common; he selects his
subjects and then deliberately exaggerates their crudeness and
- w:Théophile Gautier, (15th February 1851), in 'La Presse'; as quoted in 'Reception', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
- I went to see the paintings by Courbet. I was astonished by the
vigour and the relief of his vast picture; but what a painting! What a
subject! The commonness of the forms would not matter; it is the
commonness and uselessness of the thought which are abominable.. ..Oh
Rossini! Oh Mozart! Oh geniuses inspired by all the arts, who draw from
things only the elements that are shown to the mind! What would you say
before these pictures?
- Eugène Delacroix in 'The Journal', 15th April 1853; as quoted in 'Reception', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
- The landscape [in his painting 'The Bathers', painted by Courbet in
1853] is of an extraordinary vigor, but Courbet has done no more than
enlarge a study exhibited there, near his large canvas; the conclusion
is that the figures [the two bathers in the painting] were put in
afterwards and without connection with their surroundings. This brings
up the question of harmony between the accessories and the principal
object, a thing lacking in the majority of great painters.
- Quote of Eugène Delacroix from 'The Journal' of 15 April 1853; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 231
- [After leaving the w:Exposition Universelle (1855)
].. .I went to the Courbet exposition. He has reduced the price of
admission to ten sous. I stayed there alone for nearly one hour and
discovered a masterpiece in the picture, they rejected [the jury of the
official Salon exhibition in Paris]. I simply could not tear myself away
from the sight of it.. ..In [Courbet's painting 'The Studio'] the
planes are well understood. There is atmosphere, and in some passages
the execution is really remarkable, especially the tights and hips of
the nude model and the breasts.. .The only fault is that the picture, as
he painted it, seems to contain an ambiguity. It looks as though there
were a real sky in the middle of the painting. They [The Salon-jury]
have rejected one of the most remarkable works of our time, but Courbet
is not the man to be discouraged by a little thing like that.
- Eugene Delacroix, a note of his Diary, (3 August, 1855); as quoted in Chapter 9: 'Courbets Studio of the Painter: in The Rhetoric of Realism, Courbet and the Origins of the Avant-Garde, Stephen Eisenman, London, Thames and Hudson 2002, p. 221
- Monsieur Courbet, too, [Baudelaire had previously been commenting on w:Ingres
] is a powerful worker, he has a wild and patient will; and the results
he produces, results which for some have more charm than those of the
great master of Raphaelesque tradition.. ..doubtlessly because they
display a sectarian spirit, a butcher of faculties. Politics and
literature, too, produce these vigorous temperaments, these protesters,
these anti-Supernaturalists whose only justification is their sometimes
salutary, reactive spirit. Providence, presiding over the interests of
painting, gives them accomplices in all those who are tired or oppressed
by the predominant, opposing idea. But the difference is that the
heroic sacrifice that Monsieur Ingres makes for the honour of tradition
and Raphaelesque beauty, Courbet accomplishes in the interests of
external, positive, immediate nature. They have different motives when
waging war on the imagination, and the two opposing obsessions lead them
to the same immolation.
- w:Charles Baudelaire, (Paris, 12th August 1855) in 'Le Portefeuille'; as quoted in 'Reception', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
- At the moment, Madame, in the avenue Montaigne, just near the
Painting Exhibition, one can see a sign with the words: REALISM. G.
Courbet. Exhibition of forty paintings. It is an exhibition in the
English style. A painter, whose name has become widely known since the
February Revolution, has chosen his most significant paintings, and has
had a studio built to exhibit them.. .It is an incredibly audacious act,
it is the subversion of all institutions associated with the jury, it
is a direct appeal to the public, some are saying it is freedom.. .It is
a scandal, it is anarchy, it is art dragged through the mud. Others are
saying these are fairground pictures.. ..Courbet was considered a
troublemaker because he produced honest, life-size paintings of the
bourgeoisie, peasants and village women. That was the first point.
People could not admit that a stone breaker was worth as much as a
prince: the nobility objected to him according so many meters of canvas
to ordinary people; only sovereigns had the right to be painted full
length, with their decorations, their rich clothes and their official
expressions. What? A man from 'Ornans' [were Courbet was born], a
peasant in his coffin, dares to draw a large crowd at his funeral:
farmers, people of low estate..
- w:Champfleury (1855), in: 'On Realism, Letters to Madame [w:George Sand]'; as quoted in 'Reception', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
1861 - 1880
- ..a valiant fellow; he has a broad conception that one might adopt, but still it seems to me to be rather course in details..
- w:Eugène Boudin, in an entry of his Journal (Le Havre, 1860s); as quoted in Image of the Sea: Oceanic Consciousness in the Romantic Century, publisher: Peter Lang, 2004, Chapter 'Courbets Realism', p. 308
- I don't need to plead for modern subjects here. This cause was won a long time ago. After those remarkable works by Eduard Manet
and Courbet, no-one would now dare to say that the present day is
unworthy of being painted.. .We find ourselves faced with the only
reality: in spite of ourselves, we encourage our painters to portray us
just as we are, with our styles of dress and our manners.
- w:Emile Zola, in 'My Salon', (1868), The Actualists; as quoted in 'Reception', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-dOrsay
- Courbet! and his influence was odious! the regret I feel and the
rage, hate even, I feel for all that now would astonish you perhaps but
this is the explanation. It's not poor Courbet whom I find loathsome,
any more than his paintings work - As always I recognize the qualities
they have - I am not complaining either about the influence of his
painting on mine - there was none, and you will not find it in my
canvases - There couldn't be; because I am too personal and I had many
qualities that he did not have but which suited me well - But this is
the reason why all that was so bad for me. That damned Realism made an
immediate appeal to my vanity as a painter! and mocking all tradition
cried out loud, with all the confidence of ignorance, 'Long live
Nature!!' nature! My dear fellow, that cry was a great misfortune for
me! - Where could you have found an apostle more ready to accept this
theory, so appealing to him!. ..Ah my friend! our little band
[artist-group around Courbet] was a depraved group! Oh! how I wish I had
been a pupil of wIngres!
.. .But I repeat I wish I had been his pupil! What a master he would
have been - How soundly he would have guided us - drawing!
- Whistler, (c. 1869) in his letter to W:Henri Fantin-Latour; Repository: Library of Congress, Call-Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 1/33/25
- In a great bare room (at Étretat, Normandy), a fat, dirty, greasy
man [Courbet] was spreading patches of white paint on to a big bare
canvas with a kitchen knife. From time to time he went and pressed his
face against the window-pane to look at the storm. The sea came up so
close that it seemed to beat right against the house, which was
smothered in foam and noise. The dirty water rattled like hail against
the windows and streamed down the walls. On the mantelpiece was a bottle
of cider and a half-empty glass. Every now and then Courbet would drink
a mouthful and then go back to his painting. It was called 'The Wave',
and it made a good deal of stir in its time.
- Guy de Maupassant, (1870s): describing the way of painting by the later Courbet; as quoted in Image of the Sea: Oceanic Consciousness in the Romantic Century, publisher: Peter Lang, 2004, Chapter 'Waterworlds', p. 311
1880 - 1900
- If Courbet could only paint what he saw, he saw wonderfully, he saw
better than anybody else. His eye was a subtle and assured mirror, where
the most fleeting sensations, the most delicate nuances became clear.
With this exceptional ability to see, came an exceptional ability to
render what he saw. Courbet used paint thickly, but without harshness
and without roughness: his pictures are as smooth as ice, and shine like
enamel. He achieves relief and movement at the same time by using just
the right shade; and this shade, put on flat with a palette knife,
acquires an extraordinary intensity. I have never seen any richer or
more distinguished use of colour, nor one that gains so much with age.
- w:Jules Castagnary (1882), in the 'Preface' to the catalogue for the posthumous Courbet exhibition, held at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1882; as quoted in 'Reception', 'Courbet-dossier', Musée-d'Orsay
- A builder. A rough and ready plasterer. A colour grinder. He
[Gustave Courbet] is like a Roman bricklayer. And yet he's another true
painter. There's no one in this century that surpasses him. Even though
he rolls up his sleeves, plugs up his ears, demolishes columns, his
workmanship is classical!.. .His view was always compositional. His
vision remained traditional. Like his palette-knife, he used it only out
of doors. He was sophisticated and brought his work to a high finish..
.His great contribution is the poetic introduction of nature - the smell
of damp leaves, mossy forest cuttings - into nineteenth century
painting; the murmur of rain, woodlands shadows, sunlight moving under
trees. The sea. And snow, he painted snow like no one else!
- Quote by Paul Cézanne from 'What he told me – II. The Louvre', in Joachim Gasquet's Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, (1897 - 1906); Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 198
- These great 'Waves' – the one in Berlin ['The Wave' (La Vague),
1869] is prodigious, one of the marvels of the century, far more swollen
and palpitating than this one [the painting 'Stormy Sea', Cézanne saw
in the Louvre]; a muddier green and a dirtier orange [in 'The Wave' of
Berlin] – a tangle of flying spray, a tide drawn from depths of
eternity, a ragged sky, the livid sharpness of the whole scene. It seems
to hit you full in the chest, you stagger back, the whole room reeks of
- Quote by Paul Cézanne, (in the Louvre, 1890's); as quoted in Image of the Sea: Oceanic Consciousness in the Romantic Century, Howard F. Isham, publisher: Peter Lang, 2004, Chapter 'Waterworlds', p. 313
1900 and later
- * But what an eye Monet
has, the most prodigious eye since painting began! I raise my hat to
him. As for Courbet, he already had the image in his eye, ready-made.
Monet used to visit him [Courbet], you know, in his early days.
- Quote by Paul Cézanne from 'What he told me – I. The motif', in w:Joachim Gasquet's Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, (1897 - 1906); Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 164
- Courbet is the father of the new painters.
- Quote by w:Guillaume Apollinaire (1913), (poet-spokesperson of French Cubism). in 'Les Peintres Cubistes' (1913); as quoted on Wikipedia
- A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its
outline. The objects and figures represented in it must likewise
poetically tell you of something that is far away from them and also of
what their shapes materially hide from us. A certain dog painted by
Courbet is like the story of a poetic and romantic hunt.
- Quote by De Chirico (c. 1919) in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 440
- No painter before Courbet was ever able to emphasize so uncompromisingly the density and weight of what he was painting.
- w:John Berger, (1965), in The Success and Failure of Picasso, Penguin Books, Ltd. 1965. pp. 52-53; as quoted on Wikipedia: Gustave Courbet, note 50
- Courbet, whilst still using paint on canvas, wanted to go beyond
[pictorial] conventions and find the equivalent of the physical
sensation of the material objects portrayed: their weight, their
temperature, their texture. What perspective towards the horizon meant
to w:Poussin, the force of gravity meant to Courbet. (italics in original)
- w:John Berger, (1965), in The Success and Failure of Picasso, Penguin Books, Ltd. 1965. pp. 52-53; as quoted on Wikipedia: Gustave Courbet, note 51
- The task was to combine the two [ Cézanne's
dialectical method revealing the process of seeing - Courbet by his
materialism]. Followed up separately, each would lead to a cul-de-sac:
Courbet’s materialism would become mechanical; the force of gravity,
which gave such dignity to his subjects, would become oppressive and
literal. Cézanne’s dialectic would become more and more disembodied and
its harmony would be obtained at the price of physical indifference.
Today, both examples are followed up separately.
- w:John Berger, (1965), in The Success and Failure of Picasso, Penguin Books, Ltd. 1965. pp. 55-56; as quoted on Wikipedia: Gustave Courbet, note 49
- On the left is the realist tradition of the 19th century, with its
impulse to social description, radical criticism and meditation on
things as they are.. ..culminating in Courbet at his mightiest
[paintings] (The Studio, The Funeral at Ornans and a portrait of a trout that has more death in it than Rubens could get in a whole Crucifixion).
- Robert Hughes, reviewing exhibits in Paris' Centre National d'Art Contemporain, in 'Out of a Grand Ruin, a Great Museum' from TIME magazine (8 December 1986)
Forest in Autumn. 1841. oil on canvas. 38 × 54 cm (15 × 21.3 in). Private collection
Le Hammac (The hammock) (1844)
Gustave Courbet - Le Désespéré
Zélie Courbet (1847)
Portrait de Baudelaire (1848)
Self-portrait, 1848-1849, Musée Fabre
Une après-dîner à Ornans (1849)
Un enterrement à Ornans (1849) A Burial at Ornans
L'homme blessé, dit aussi Portrait de l'artiste (huile sur toile, vers 1844-1854, musée d'Orsay)
Steinbruch von Optevoz (1854)
View in the Forest of Fontainebleau. 1855. oil on canvas. 82 × 102 cm (32.3 × 40.2 in). Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
The painter's atelier (1855)
Mädchen an der Seine (1856)
la Dame de Francfort (1858)
Fox in the snow (1860)
Nude Woman with a Dog (Femme nue au chien), c. 1861–62, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Femme nue couchée (1862)
Pferd im Walde (1863)
The Source (1864)
Les Bas Blancs, (Woman with White Stockings), 1864, Barnes Foundation
Girl with Terns (1865)
Portrait of Countess Karoly (1865)
Jo, la belle Irlandaise 1865-1866. oil on canvas. 55.9 × 66 cm (22 × 26 in). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Young Bather, 1866
The Sleep (1866)
Woman with a Parrot (1866)
L'Origine du monde (1866)
Portrait of Jules Vallès (1832-1885), writer 1855-1865. oil on canvas. 27.2 × 22.1 cm (10.7 × 8.7 in). Paris, Musée Carnavalet.19th century
The Kill of the Deer. circa 1867. oil on canvas. 355 × 505 cm (139.8 × 198.8 in). Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Besançon.
Seaside. 1867. oil on canvas. 55 × 65 cm (21.7 × 25.6 in). Warsaw, National Museum in Warsaw (MNW).
Rehbock im Wald (1867)
Die Badende (1868)
Die Wellen (1869)
Die Woge (1870)
The Cliffs of Etretat After the Storm (1870)
Landscape with Rocky Cliffs and a Waterfall. 1872. oil on canvas. 61 × 73 cm (24 × 28.7 in). Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
Still Life with Apples. 1872. oil on canvas. 59 × 48 cm (23.2 × 18.9 in). Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
A Hut in the Mountains. circa 1874. oil on canvas. 33 × 49 cm (13 × 19.3 in). Moscow, Pushkin Museum.
Winter Landscape. 1850-1877. oil on canvas mounted on panel. 35 × 45 cm (13.8 × 17.7 in). Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
The Mirror on the River Loue Scey-en-Varais, near Ornans
Woodburytype of Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet buste 1887
A satirical sketch of Gustave Courbet taking down a "Rambuteau column" (a urinal), caricature published by a popular Commune newspaper, the Père Duchêne illustré