Gustave Courbet, The Woman in the Waves, 1868
Gustave Courbet, The Artist’s Studio, 1855
From the Musee d’Orsay:
The enormous Studio is without doubt Courbet’s most mysterious composition. However, he provides several clues to its interpretation: “It’s the whole world coming to me to be painted”, he declared, “on the right, all the shareholders, by that I mean friends, fellow workers, art lovers. On the left is the other world of everyday life, the masses, wretchedness, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, people who make a living from death”.
In the first group, those on the right, we can recognise the bearded profile of the art collector Alfred Bruyas, and behind him, facing us, the philosopher Proudhon. The critic Champfleury is seated on a stool, while Baudelaire is absorbed in a book. The couple in the foreground personify art lovers, and near the window, two lovers represent free love.
On the side of “everyday life”, we find a priest, a merchant, a hunter who somewhat resembles Napoleon III, and even an unemployed worker and a beggar girl symbolising poverty. We can also see the guitar, the dagger and the hat, which, together with the male model, condemn traditional academic art.
In this vast allegory, truly a manifesto painting, each figure has a different meaning. And in the middle of all this stands Courbet himself, flanked by benevolent figures: a female muse, naked like the Truth, a child and a cat. In the centre, the painter presents himself as a mediator. Courbet thus affirms the artist’s role in society in an enormous scene on the scale of a history painting. When faced with the rejection of his painting, intended for the 1855 Universal Exhibition, Courbet built a “Pavilion of Realism” at his own expense. Here, outside the official event, he organised his own exhibition, which also included A Burial at Ornans, so that his work could be available to the whole of society.
Favourite male self portraits (L-R) Gustave Courbet, John French Sloan, Raphael, Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, Lorenzo Lotto, Albrecht Durer, Francis Bacon, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, David Wilkie
Photographs of artists by Nadar, accompanied by an example of their work. Gustave Dore, Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet, Gustave Courbet
Because sometimes, it’s nice to put a face to a painting
Seascapes by Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet, 1868, The Source
ART TIMELINE: 1844
Gustave Courbet, 1844-45, Self Portrait (The Desperate Man): realism
Eugene Delacroix, 1844, The Death of Ophelia: Romanticism
Edwin Henry Landseer, c.1844, Shoeing
Nude Reclining Woman by Gustave Courbet, 1862
Begin at the woman’s head and follow her form down … dark hair frames a soft sleeping face … a pale creamy neck … small breasts with definite Renaissance influence … tiny nipped-in waist … and then quite possibly the most exaggerated and voluptuous pear-shaped lower body I have ever seen. Surely it cannot even be anatomically correct?! Courbet you scoundrel.
ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Nadar, 1820-1910
Born Gaspard-Felix Tournachon in Paris, Nadar’s career spanned various fields including journalism, drawing caricatures and even ballooning, but he is most famous for his photography. He even combined the latter two to become the first person to take photographs from the air.
If you have never heard Nadar’s name before, I can guarantee you’ll be subliminally aware of him if you have ever looked into the lives of the Impressionists. He leant them his studio for their very first exhibition in 1874 which included works by all of the major Impressionist names. His relation to many other nineteenth century artists is apparent in his numerous photographic portraits of Realists and Romanticists, including Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet (pictured here), and Eugene Delacroix, Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Dore.
Happy Birthday Gustave Courbet: 10th June 1819
The Meeting (Bonjour Monsieur Courbet) by Gustave Courbet, 1854. This painting always puts a smile on my face. I don’t know if its the weird scale system, (don’t the figures look far too big for the surrounding landscape?!) or if its the fact that Courbet on the right looks like a combination between a hippy and an escaped convict.
Le Sommeil by Gustave Courbet, 1866. Translated as ‘The Sleep’, the painting was reported to the police upon its exhibition in 1872 due to its highly controversial subject; not only are the two women completely naked, but their physical positioning creates an obvious reference to their relationship as probable lovers. Le Sommeil is an image that is near enough to being just as shocking today as it was 150 years ago.