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Gustave Courbet

French Painter

Gustave Courbet Photo
Movement: Realism

Born: June 10, 1819 - Ornans, Doubs, France

Died: December 31, 1877 - La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland

Important Art by Gustave Courbet

The below artworks are the most important by Gustave Courbet - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Burial at Ornans (1849)

Burial at Ornans (1849)

This 22 foot long canvas situated in a main room at the Musee d'Orsay buries the viewer as if he or she were in a cave. In a decidedly non-classical composition, figures mill about in the darkness, unfocused on ceremony. As a prime example of Realism, the painting sticks to the facts of a real burial and avoids amplified spiritual connotations. Emphasizing the temporal nature of life, Courbet intentionally did not let the light in the painting express the eternal. While sunset could have expressed the great transition of the soul from the temporal to the eternal, Courbet covered the evening sky with clouds so the passage of day into night is just a simple echo of the coffin passing from light into the dark of the ground. Some critics saw the adherence to the strict facts of death as slighting religion and criticized it as a shabbily composed structure with worn-faced working folk raised up to life-size in a gigantic work as if they had some kind of noble importance. Other critics such as Proudhon loved the inference of equality and virtue of all people and recognized how such a painting could help turn the course of Western art and politics.

The Bathers (1853)

The Bathers (1853)

This is one of the best examples of Courbet's non-classical treatment of nudes. In this eight foot tall painting two women are partially naked without any mythological justification or rhetoric, rendered naturally and not idealized. The painting was poorly received, with Delacroix seeing no excuse for these "naked and fat bourgeoisie.. buttocks, and meaningless gestures." But rather than being negative, the attention was good publicity, and Courbet sold the work in spite of the criticisms.

The Meeting or Bonjour Monsieur Courbet (1854)

The Meeting or Bonjour Monsieur Courbet (1854)

In this large work Courbet painted himself meeting Alfred Bruyas, a key patron and supporter. The painting expresses the collector's appreciation of the genius of Courbet. As an extension of Bruyas, the servant is caught in the greatest gesture of respect, but the key point is this moment of mutual appreciation between artist and patron. As expressions of great intellect and importance, Courbet's head is tilted back slightly and he is the one standing directly in unfiltered light.

At the same time, Courbet's self-importance shines through on this canvas. His beard points at the patron as if in judgement. The artist also carries a stick that is double the size of the one that his patron supports himself on - another allusion to the strength of the artist.

The Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory Summing Up a Seven-Year Phase of My Artistic Life (1855)

The Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory Summing Up a Seven-Year Phase of My Artistic Life (1855)

This 19 foot long painting is an expression of Courbet's self-love and pride in his iron will, hard work and revolutionary genius. Just as he heroicized others in the Burial at Ornans, he does the same for himself in this work. With a good measure of egotism, Courbet expresses that things get done and attitudes change when people think for themselves and challenge the status quo. Courbet places himself full-size, brush in hand, working on a landscape picture. His friends on the right are emblematic of kindred spirits and innovation, while the admiring boy is an expression of Courbet's confidence that his legacy will transcend generations. The nude model standing behind the artist affirms his greatness and her role as muse. To the left stand the working poor, Courbet's recognition of their right to be included. His nemesis, Napoleon III, is presented as a poacher holding a firearm, accompanied by his dogs. Courbet's chin-up gaze trumps Napoleon's downward tipped head in an expression of the innovator dominating over the authoritarian.

Sleep (1866)

Sleep (1866)

This work shows Courbet's interest in an erotic Realism that became prevalent in his later work. Raw eroticism is delivered without aid of cupids or mythological justification of any kind, making this work vulgar to those with the prevailing taste of the day. Such unsanctified nudes provoked much discussion about flaws in Courbet's character and art, but the artist reveled in the added attention and increased reputation as a confrontational artist.

The Wave (1870)

The Wave (1870)

Many early Modernists were influenced by Japanese prints and it is argued that Courbet is one of the first to be affected by this Eastern aesthetic. Likely, taking a cue from the prints, he shows us a slice of water closed off from the view of vast space. The painting epitomizes Courbet's landscapes and seascapes that were always composed of broken patches of paint loaded in both the dark and light areas. Such painterly treatment was inspiration to the budding Impressionists.

Related Artists and Major Works

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867-68)

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867-68)

By: Édouard Manet

France was shocked by the execution of Maximilian of Austria, Emperor of Mexico, on June 19, 1867. The politics behind Napoleon III's withdrawal of troops from Mexico also outraged the public. This canvas is clearly a nod to Goya's similar execution scene in The Third of May 1808 (1814). Manet was a devout Republican and was keenly influenced by political events, and here he sought to record contemporary events like a grand history painter, but with his own modern vision. However, the painting's subject matter was too sensitive to be exhibited at the time, especially with the overt implication of Napoleon III's culpability by dressing Maximilian in a sombrero and the soldiers in French uniforms. The Romantic spirit and muted tones create a distinctly somber, yet immediate scene.

Women in the Garden (1866-67)

Women in the Garden (1866-67)

By: Claude Monet

Women in the Garden was painted at Ville d'Avray using his future wife Camille as the only model. The goal of this large-scale work (100" by 81"), while meticulously composed, was to render the effects of true outdoor light, rather than regard conventions of modeling or drapery. From the flickers of sunlight that pierce the foliage of the trees to delicate shadows and the warm flesh tones that can be seen through his model's sleeve, Monet details the behavior of natural light in the scene. In January 1867, his friend and fellow Impressionist Frederic Bazille purchased the work for the sum of 2,500 francs in order to help Monet out of the extreme debt that he was suffering from at the time.

The Card Players (1890-1892)

The Card Players (1890-1892)

By: Paul Cézanne

Cézanne produced his series of Card Player paintings, drawings, and related studies in his ancestral home in the South of France, where he found in the image of men playing cards something timeless, like the mountains cradling an ancient people. As though they came together around a simple peasant table for a seance or cosmic conference, the card players seem at once transient and unmoving, very much masters of their environment and yet weathered testaments of time's passing.


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