Gustave Courbet (painter)

   Gustave Courbet was a French painter. Born Ornans, France, June 10, 1819. Died near Vevey, Switzerland, Dec. 31, 1877.
   Courbet started the 19th-century movement toward Realism in French painting. In his works he broke sharply with the idealized subject matter of traditional painting. Courbet stated that, unlike the Classicists and Romantics, he would paint only what he could see. His interest in everyday events and average people is illustrated in two of his finest works, The Stonebreakers and A Burial at Ornans (both in the Louvre, Paris).

The Stonebreakers by Courbet
   Courbet went to Paris at the age of 20 to study art. His early works were Romantic, but he soon changed to a more realistic style. Many of his paintings, however, continued to show his essentially Romantic nature even as he attempted to portray accurately the world around him. Such famous works as Young Bather (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) and A Spanish Woman (Philadelphia Museum of Art) are Realist in subject matter, but Romantic in mood. During his lifetime, however, he was considered a strict Realist, and Young Bather outraged spectators because it simply depicted a real woman rather than a woman meant to represent an imaginary ideal.
   Courbet's Realism brought him into conflict with the Salon, the official promoter and organizer of all public exhibitions. In 1855, when the Salon refused Courbet entry into its show, he organized his own exhibition. One of his paintings for this show, The Painter's Studio, is often considered his masterpiece. Courbet's conflict with authority extended to politics, as well as to art. In 1871 he was imprisoned for his part in the Commune, a French Socialist uprising. He escaped to Switzerland, where he died in exile.