Gustave Courbet 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. Later on in the 1850s and 1860s, 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 The Artist’s Studio (1855; Louvre, Paris) was not well received, the popularity of his smaller landscapes, hunting scenes, still lifes, 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 and, through them, on 20th century art.
Museum Collections Include:
Musee du Louvre, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Yale University Art Gallery; Le Petit Palais, Paris; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; The Art Institute of Chicago; Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX; Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Neue Pinakothek, Munich.