Gustave Courbet Paintings (Famous Artworks)
The 19th century saw many artists breaking molds and setting themselves apart from established conventions.
Gustave Courbet was in that category of artists who became trendsetters in their disciplines, paving the way for a new approach to painting that emphasized observable reality and over-idealized representations of art.
Courbet lived at a time when Romanticism was at its apex, which itself was a reaction to the overly rationalistic Enlightenment that rapidly encroached on all artistic expressions in 17th-century Europe.
Courbet attempted to detach himself from this apotheosized art, instead reverting to a more rationalistic method but glimpsed through an entirely new lens. Many of his most famous works were met with a great deal of controversy.
He would portray derelicts, peasants, and laborers without any aggiornamento, causing shock and, at times, even dismay among peers and spectators. Here are a few of Gustave Courbet's paintings:
The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet
The Desperate Man is a self-portrait made during Courbet's Romantic phase, painted right after he arrived in Paris.
It would be one of the many self-portraits he would make throughout his lifetime - along with "Self-Portrait with a Black Dog" (1842) and "Man with a Pipe" (1848).
During his early years, he was trying to emulate the style of many "Spanish School" artists such as Velasquez and Zurbaran.
He was also fascinated with Rembrandt, whose works he would likewise copy. This painting is now owned by the Conseil Investissement Art BNP Paribas and is held as part of the banking group's private collection.
After Dinner at Ornans by Gustave Courbet
This painting was made as soon as Courbet returned to his birthplace - the small town of Ornans - in 1848. It was done alongside another of his most famous works: "The Stone Breakers" (unfortunately destroyed during World War II).
The scene illustrated in this painting is meant to exhibit Ornans' everyday provincial life without any of the proverbial bells and whistles found in more romantic works.
Rather, we contemplate a simple, routinary gathering of individuals just spending some time together after a hard day's work.
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A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet
This painting in particular was the one that garnered the most attention from the Parisian art scene. In it, Courbet was depicting all the people whom he knew and who were present at his great uncle's funeral in Ornans.
One of the most striking aspects of this painting is the sober and largely untheatrical gestures of the people portrayed therein.
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Most of the women on the right side appeared slightly mournful, while the children on the left seemed largely apathetic or lost in thought.
Critics highlight the stark contrast between this grim and forgetful scene and the glorified features found in El Greco's "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz", to which this painting is oftentimes compared.
Some of the accusers complained that Courbet was deliberately trying to aim for ugliness with this painting.
For Courbet, on the flip side, the painting symbolized, in its own special way, the "burial of romanticism". A Burial at Ornans is currently showcased at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.
The Bathers by Gustave Courbet
This painting was highly controversial, with detractors denouncing the breaking of several artistic canons. The first point of contention was the unapologetically raw portrayal of a large naked lady.
The second was the sketchy foliage that adorned the surrounding scenery. Despite the outrage it provoked when it was put on display at the Paris Salon.
The painting drew the attention of Courbet's future friend, art collector Alfred Bruyas, who paid a very large sum of money (amounting to 3,000 francs) for this piece. This was more than enough money for Courbet to become financially independent.
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The Meeting by Gustave Courbet
This painting was supposed to portray a meeting between Courbet and the aforementioned Bruyas, (who would become one of his major benefactors) on his way to Montpellier. On the right, you can see Bruyas' dog, while the man on the left is Bruyas' servant Calas.
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However, Courbet was not actually depicting the event as it truly happened (since both men did not meet in the open field, contrary to what the painting suggests) but, rather, it tried to allegorize the existing harmony between two people with starkly different social backgrounds but similar goals and interests.
Even though realism is still prevalent, the scene is endowed with a very bright color palette that conveys joy and gracefulness. The highly sociable nature of the painting was very well-received by critics and, especially, by Bruyas himself.
The Painter's Studio by Gustave Courbet
Here, Courbet tried to make a meta painting, showing figurative representations of a myriad of things that influenced Courbet's artistic career and personal life. It was presented at the exhibit of the 1855 Paris World Fair but was rejected by the jury at that event.
As an affront to this, Courbet created his own pavilion - called "Le Pavilion du Realisme" - with the aid of Alfred Bruyas, which would pave the way for The Salon des Refusés, meaning the "exhibition of rejects".
On the left of the famous painting, you could discern members of the aristocracy mixed with those of other social strata, while on the left are many of Courbet's friends and associates, including Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Charles Baudelaire, and the frequently-mentioned Alfred Bruyas.
Paraphrasing Courbet's description of his own work, "The Painter's Studio" was meant to represent the best, worst, and average facets of society.
Woman with a Parrot by Gustave Courbet
This was yet another controversial painting. It was Courbet's first nude to be accepted by the Paris Salon and followed the same trend of displaying nudity in a grossly unmythical fashion.
This time around, the pose and flesh tones utilized were meant for Academy approval, though some critics would still object to the hair's unkempt appearance and the way the clothing is arranged, which would send signals that the woman in the picture was a courtesan of sorts.
Some of the most conservative critics would qualify this painting as being of "poor taste" owing to these sexualized overtones. This was believed to be one of the many Gustave Courbet paintings that featured Irish model Joanna Hiffernan, though this has not been confirmed.