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Gustave Courbet

 (1819 - 1877)
Gustave Courbet was active/lived in France, Switzerland.  Gustave Courbet is known for realist landscape, seascape, nude figure, still life and genre painting.

Gustave Courbet

    koor-BAY  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Gustave Courbet
The following is from


Gustave Courbet {koor-bay'}, b. June 10, 1819, d. Dec. 31, 1877, was the foremost realist painter of mid-19th-century France.  A member of an affluent landowning family, Courbet remained close to his rural origins and frequently returned to his birthplace, Ornans, in search of subjects.

From 1837 he studied at the Royal College in Besançon, and when sent to Paris in 1840 to study law he defied his father's wishes and pursued a career as an artist. During the 1840s, Courbet produced many canvases in a typically romantic style, including figures of sleeping girls and some complacent self-portraits.  In 1844 he exhibited Self-Portrait with a Black Dog (1842; Museum of the Petit Palais, Paris) at the Paris Salon.  Courbet's maturing as an artist coincided with the Revolution of 1848.  In After Dinner in Ornans (1848-49; Palace of Fine Arts, Lille), exhibited at the Salon of 1849, Courbet painted an intimate genre scene on the monumental scale formerly reserved for paintings of historical and mythological subjects.

This painting was followed rapidly by other major works, such as The Burial at Ornans (1849-50; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) and The Stone Breakers (1850; destroyed), notable for their large scale and volumetric solidity.

During the 1850s and '60s, Courbet was the archetypical bohemian artist of radical political beliefs.  Dissatisfied with his treatment by art juries, Courbet took the revolutionary step of constructing pavilions to show his work at his own expense during the world's fairs of 1855 and 1867.  Although his massive painting, "The Artist's Studio (1855; Louvre, Paris), was not well received, the popularity of his smaller landscapes, hunting scenes, still life, and nudes made him financially secure in the 1860s.

Courbet's republican sympathies led to his involvement in the Paris Commune of 1871 and to his imprisonment following the collapse of the revolutionary government.  Accused of complicity in the destruction of the Vendôme column, a Paris monument, Courbet was ordered to pay a huge fine for its reconstruction; he fled to Switzerland in 1873.

Courbet was perhaps the first painter of genre* subjects to become the acknowledged leader of a major school.  By giving everyday scenes a monumental treatment, he helped to break down the traditional hierarchy of subject matter, giving an increased emphasis to purely formal values in painting.  His example had a great influence on the impressionists (see impressionism) and, through them, on 20th-century art.

Donald Rosenthal, Curator of Collections, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.

The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9.01, 1997.

T.J. Clark, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (1978); Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin, Courbet Reconsidered (1988)
Robert Fernier, Courbet: The Complete Paintings, 2 vols. (1988)
Michael Fried, Courbet's Realism (1990) Klaus Herding, Courbet, trans. by John Gabriel (1991);
Gerstle Mack, Gustave Courbet (1951; repr. 1989).

Images: "Proudhon and His Children" (Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York); "Cliffs at Etretat After a Storm" (Print Copyright: Shorewood Fine Art); "The Artist's Studio" (Giraudon/Art Resource, New York).

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Gustave Courbet

The following was written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California:

When Gustave Courbet was twenty-one, he won the time-honored battle waged between so many young artists and their parents: obtaining permission to abandon the studies that were to have led to the practice of some reputable lucrative profession, he had gone to Paris to devote himself to painting.  He was the oldest child and the only son of a fairly well-to-do landowner and agriculturist who often held municipal office in the little town of Flagey that lies in the foothills of the French Alps.  Gustave was born in 1819 about eight miles north of Flagey, in his grandmother's house at Ornans. From 1831 to 1837, young Courbet attended the seminary conducted by the diocese of Ornans, deriving from it no profit and apparently little pleasure except that afforded by the drawing lessons given there by a former pupil of Gros.

Few painters managed to outrage the respectable standards of their day with more gusto than Courbet.  Critics found his work sordid and common, later it was labeled as being too photographic.  His crime lay in giving monumental treatment to everyday subjects and drawing some of his deepest inspiration from direct contact with nature. What caused Courbet as much trouble as his subject matter was his own self-centered swagger and robust peasant's appetite.  One of his favorite painting subjects was himself.  He was a big, brash, truculently honest and insufferably egotistical man.  A sturdy, black-bearded bohemian, Courbet would sit up drinking until dawn.  His taste in female models, many of whom became his mistresses, was gargantuan.  Without hesitation, he produced numerous female nudes that border on soft-core pornography, many of which were commissioned by the collector Khalil Bey, a Turkish diplomat and well-known bon vivant living in Paris at the time.

Freethinker Courbet, once called the "first true socialist painter", plunged into the Paris Commune uprising of 1871, and was elected president of the short-lived Federal Commission of Artists.  Later, when the conservatives returned to power, they accused Courbet (unjustly) of destroying Napoleon I's bronze column in Place Vendome.  Imprisoned, Courbet later went into exile in Switzerland, after the French government sent him a bill for restoring the column and confiscated his property.  Plagued by money worries and by waning powers, he stepped up his daily wine ration to ten quarts, rapidly went into a decline and died of dropsy in 1877 at the age of fifty-eight.

Sources include:
Time Magazine, April 30, 1956
Metropolitan Museum of Art Miniatures: Courbet 
Elizabeth Janus in ARTnews, May 1999 
Life Magazine, date unknown
The Man Who Made Stones Think by Jack Flan, ARTnews, December 1988

Biography from Schiller & Bodo European Paintings
French, 1819-1877

Courbet first painted this view of Ornans in 1864 when it served as a panoramic backdrop for a harvesting scene (Fernier, no. 376).  When he returned to this idyllic setting three years later in the present picture, he replaced the harvester with an elegant lady walking on a path.  The rugged terrain of the Franche Comte, with its grottos, rock formations and cliffs provided the source for many of Courbet's most memorable landscapes.  During the warm spring and summer months, the land was verdant and allowed Courbet to explore a palette characterized by endless shades of green, ranging from emerald to chartreuse.

Vallee de la Loue, pres d'Ornans was painted on a sunny spring or summer day, judging from the green trees heavy with foliage, the clear blue sky streaked with shades of pink and the parasol that is needed to shield the elegant woman on the path from the heat of the sun.  According to an inscription on the reverse of the painting, Courbet painted this view of Ornans for the Marquis de Pomereu, another native of the Franche Comte.  It most likely joined a second painting by Courbet from 1867, Au bord de l'etang (Fernier, no. 608), also in the Marquis's collection. Both paintings have similar dimensions and may represent specific commissions that Courbet received from his patron.

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About  Gustave Courbet

Born:  1819 - Ornans, Doubs, France
Died:   1877 - La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland
Known for:  realist landscape, seascape, nude figure, still life and genre painting