Gustave Courbet  (French, 1819-1877) 

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Gustave Courbet Biography
  Renowned loosely as the father of Modernism, Gustave Courbet is hailed for his remarkable Realism which bridged the gap between History Painting and Impressionism in 19th Century French painting. Courbet obviously cannot be viewed as a Modernist in terms of abstraction, rather in terms if "a series of ideas and attitudes that are filtered through pictorial sensibilities into works of art...." He diverged from the idealized, history paintings popular during mid-century and instead chose genre subjects which reflected ordinary life and made no efforts to color the truth. One of his most famous paintings, A Burial at Ornans, depicting a rural burial ceremony on a large scale, caused a great uproar when exhibited at the Salon of 1851. He conveyed neither a religious nor historic subject, but rather commoners mourning a death and for this Courbet was seen as politically rebellious, and thus a threat. "A challenge to the established cultural norms, in the form of imagery drawn from the life of ordinary people, was instantly equated with political dissent." Yet Courbet did not see his move away from depicting classical legend and history as a threat, but felt that first and foremost painting must come from the artist's own experience. He predicted that "painting was in the process of becoming a handmaiden to a new kind of historical imagination, one that had a new sense of the reality of the past and new concern for factual detail."
  "'Painting,' wrote Courbet, in his open letter to prospective students, 'is essentially a concrete art and can only consist of the representation of real and existing things. It is a completely physical language, which is made up not by words, but of all physical objects. An abstract object, being invisible and nonexistent, does not form part of the domain of painting' (published in the Courrier du dimanche, December 25, 1861). Courbet might equally well have said, thereby anticipating modern critical formalism, that a painting is in fact made up of paint itself, which then comes to stand for the physical objects in the material world. But if such a formulation was unavailable to Courbet in 1861, it is nonetheless a perceptible element of his art and one of the reasons he was so profoundly esteemed by later, purely abstract painters."

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