Gustave Courbet works and life: 5 things to know

 Gustave Courbet | autoritratto


I could write of Gustave Courbet works and life for days.
His most famous painting is “L’ Origine du monde” (“The origin of world”), so revolutionary and transgressive that has been censored because it depicts with a realism never seen before where we come from (you’ll find the image of the painting at the end of the post).

Gustave Courbet is known for being the most important artist of Realism and the source of inspiration for the Impressionist painters.

Gustave Courbet works and life

Gustave Courbet | funerale a Ornans

Gustave Courbet, Un funerale a Ornans, detto anche Quadro di figure umane, narrazione di un funerale a Ornans (1849-1850) – Musée d’Orsay


Courbet was born in Ornans, France, in 1819.
His family was wealthy and very close and the artist dedicated many works and portraits to the members of his family.
Gustave Courbet often painted his relatives among the protagonists of his paintings.
The artist would be always very attached to his region of origin, which is the background of many of his paintings, although during his life he visited Northern Europe and Normandy.


At the beginning he imitates the paintings of the masters hung in the Louvre such as Rembrandt, Hals, Rubens, Titian and the works by Caravaggio.
Then, he discovered the works by Velázquez and Zurbaran and admired Géricault and Delacroix.
In 1849 his painting “ A Burial at Ornans” he exhibited at the 1850-1851 Paris Salon was heavily criticized.

Courbet upsets convention according to which large paintings would have been reserved for historical, biblical, mythological or allegorical subjects.
The artist painted a familiar and domestic world on a large canvas because he believed that contemporary history, including that of common folks, deserved large size.


Around 1850 Courbet met Alfred Bruyas.
That meeting would be crucial for his artistic career, because Bruyas was a rich art collector who fell in love with his style and bought “The Bathers”.
From that moment on, Bruyas would become a real patron for Courbet who, this way, could live on his painting in complete independence.

Gustave Courbet | Le bagnanti

Gustave Courbet, Le bagnanti


The real Courbet’s revolution is plein air painting, which paves the way to the research of the Impressionist painters into coloured shadows.
In 1855 Courbet published a brochure to present (and sell) forty paintings and four drawings.
The introduction to this brochure is considered the Realist manifesto.

“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” – G. COURBET


Since he was a member of the Paris Commune, Gustave Courbet was arrested by soldiers of the French army and imprisoned for 6 months and had to pay a large sum of money for his involvement with the radical social government of 1871.
The sentence, however, is lighter than other Commune leaders, who were sentenced to death sentence or to deportations, but it marks the beginning of a long series of legal troubles for the artist.

This way Courbet lost a part of his fortune, and as soon as he was released from prison he fled to Switzerland.
Courbet died in exile on December 31st1877 in La Tour-de-Peilz.

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