Gustave Courbet was a French painter who became one of the pivotal figures for the Realist movement. His independent manner would set an example for subsequent movements such as Cubism and Impressionism.
Gustave Courbet was born on June 10, 1819, in the city of Ornans, France. Born into a wealthy household, his family cultivated anti-monarchic ideals. His grandfather fought during the French Revolution.
By 1839, Courbet went to Paris, often returning to his hometown to fish, hunt, and find inspiration. At first, the artist worked at the studio of Nicolas-Auguste Hesse and Charles de Steuben. However, due to his independent spirit, Courbet left the studio. He would rather develop his skills by studying and copying paintings by French, Flemish, and Spanish artists at the Louvre Museum.
Courbet’s earliest artwork is an Odalisque inspired by the works of Victor Hugo and Lelia, illustrating a work by George Sand. However, the artist soon abandoned literature as a reference in order to execute his paintings based on observations of reality. During his early career, Courbet completed several self-portraits with Romantic overtones, portraying himself in various roles. Some noteworthy mentions of this period are Self-Portrait with Black Dog, another Self-Portrait (or Man with a Pipe), The Wounded Man, The Cellist, and a Self-Portrait, also known as Desperate Man.
Courbet developed his artworks with his own take on Realism, rejecting any Classical rhetoric and execution. Although said posture was quite radical for the time, the artist was focused on having his artworks selected for the official French Salons. However, only three of 25 submissions were accepted during his first seven years in Paris.
In 1848, as France became a newly-born republic, that year the Paris Salon was jury free. This was a key opportunity for Courbet to exhibit ten paintings at the Salon, which were met with good reception, and also helped the artist gain a gold medal the following year. In 1849, amongst other paintings, Courbet displayed his Burial at Ornans, a bold Realist large-scale painting depicting a group of ordinary people, which attracted several complaints by conservatives who saw in the composition implicit democratic ideals.
Towards his late-career, Courbet focused primarily on producing seascapes, landscapes, hunting scenes, and erotic nudes. Some of his nudes are still controversial to this day. Certainly, the most notorious of them is the Origin of the World, which depicts the lower torso of a woman with open thighs, and is pobrably Courbet’s best known artwork today.
Although during his career, Courbet was not well seen by the French Academic circles and state institutions, the artist received the Legion of Honor Cross in 1870.
Gustave Courbet died on December 31, 1877, in La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland.