Gustave Courbet

Jean Desire; Gustave Courbet (June 10, 1819 – December 31, 1877) was a French painter.


Best known as an innovator in Realism (and credited with coining the term), and a landscape and seascape painter, his scenes are not romantic or idealized as was customary style at the time. Rather, he portrayed dynamic scenery, subject to continuous and progressive change. Courbet believed the Realist artist's mission was the pursuit of truth which would help erase social contradictions and imbalances.

Plage de Normandie. (c. 1872/1875). Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art.For Courbet realism was not the perfection of line and form, but spontaneous and rough handling of paint, suggesting direct observation by the artist and portraying the irregularities in nature. He 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.

His work, along with the works of Honoré Daumier and Jean-François Millet, became known as realism. Portrait of Countess Karoly (1865)
Portrait of Jo (La belle Irlandaise), a painting of Joanna Hiffernan the probable model for L'Origine du mondeBorn in Ornans (Doubs), into a prosperous farming family which wanted him to study law, 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 Spanish, Flemish and French painters and painting copies of their work.

His first works, an Odalisque, suggested by Victor Hugo, and a Lelia, illustrating George Sand, were literary subjects; but these he soon abandoned for the study of real life.

A trip to the Netherlands 1847 strengthened Courbet's feeling that painters should portray the life around them, as Rembrandt, Hals, and the other Dutch masters had done.

Among other works, he painted his own portrait with his dog, and The Man with a Pipe, both of which the Paris Salon jury rejected. However, the younger critics, the neo-romantics and realists, loudly sang praises of Courbet, who by 1849 was becoming well known, producing such pictures as After Dinner at Ornans (for which the Salon awarded medal) and The Valley of the Loire.

Burial at Ornans

Burial at OrnansProbably Courbet's most famous work is Burial at Ornans. Courbet's painting based around what he saw at the funeral of his grand uncle became the first masterpiece in the Realist style. In September 1848 he attended the funeral of his great uncle at Ornans and later painted the huge canvas, Burial at Ornans. He used people who had been to the funeral as models for the painting, which was another way that the style was new. Previously, models were used as actors, to portray the life of other people from other times, yet here Courbet was painting the very people who had been to the event. It gives a realistic look at the townspeople of Ornans, and the people Courbet knew. They are shown in a realistic setting, giving a look into what it was like to live in Ornans. The painting caused a fuss with critics and the public. It is an enormous work, measuring 10 by 22 feet, and depicts a funeral in a town in the way in which painters might have painted a picture of a royal funeral. It was unusual to take an ordinary event and give it as much importance and dignity as would be usual to depict royalty. By creating such interest in this way of painting an ordinary scene, the public grew much more interested in this new, Realist style of work. The lavish, decadent fantasy of romanticism lost popularity, people desiring something more real and closer to home. Courbet regarded this work as not just a funeral for his uncle, but in actual fact a funeral for Romanticism as a style. As Courbet said, "the Burial at Ornans was in reality the burial of Romanticism."