The idea of a revolutionary art could easily be related to famous artists, such as Malevich and his attempt to transform art into a collection of universal forms, Rimbaud and his will to crush down the language in order to crush down the world, Schoenberg and his dodecaphonism or even the Dada current. But who would think to add the name of Gustave Courbet to this list? And yet, at the Salon of 1849, an art critic -Peisse- was so upset by his paintings that he claimed the “homeland was in danger”, because, to him, Courbet's paintings were “a revolutionary machine”. Well, as you can see, these so-called frightening and revolutionary paintings seem to depict only peaceful images of rural life. Gustave Courbet was born in 1819 in the small village of Ornans, at 25 kilometers of Besançon. His parents were local prominent citizens, who would have been delighted to see their son become a lawyer -a bourgeois- but he chose another path. However, Courbet was to be attached his whole life to Ornans and the Franche-Comté, which is very important to understand his work. Very early, he went to Paris to attend art courses and was in the capital during the revolution of 1848. Even though his first paintings show us that he was influenced by romanticism, he looked towards the great Dutch and Spanish masters for influence, such as Velásquez or Rembrandt. After the revolution, he came back in Ornans and started to paint his most famous series of pictures -The After-dinner at Ornans, The Stone breakers, A Burial in Ornans and The Peasants coming back from Flagey's fair.
[...] Social realism Nowadays, we see Courbet as a revolutionary artist because of his commitment to the social realism. What is social realism? It is the will to paint the world the most real as you can do. It is not the time to think how you can represent the reality, but the major idea of the realist current is to avoid the academic canons of mythology and beauty. The social realism is an undercurrent which tries to represent the society without adding classic beauty or figures. [...]
[...] Appendix CHAM, Le Salon Caricatural I The myth of Gustave Courbet 1. An art without theorization 2. The influence of the Commune II About Courbet's technique 1. Social realism 2. The ugliness 3. The equality of popular and academic arts III Controversial subjects 1. Contesting the bourgeoisie? 2. The world of the rural bourgeoisie 3. The Burial at Ornans: a republican allegory? Appendix: Cham's cartoons, Le Salon caricatural Bibliography Primary sources: Gustave Courbet's paintings L'Enterrement à Ornans oil on canvas, 668cm x 315cm, Paris, Musee d'Orsay Les Casseurs de pierre oil on canvas, 65cm x 56cm, Musee Oskar Reinhart Une après-dînée à Ornans oil on canvas, Lille, Musee des Beaux- Arts La Rencontre ou Bonjour M. [...]
[...] In fact, they did not see how Courbet played with the canons of aesthetic, by melting popular and academic arts The equality of popular and academic arts To use the popular art was not uncommon, even though the French painters were rather reluctant. But Courbet tried something new: when the other painters used the popular art as an ornament, Courbet tried to mix popular art and academic art, in order to build a new national art, without class interests. He mixed comedy and tragedy, religion and secularity, sorrow and grotesque. [...]
[...] Regarding this, Courbet differed from the other revolutionary art movements, such as the surrealism, the futurism or dada, which began by a clear and definitive manifesto explaining their ideas and dogmas. The character of the perceptive but simple-minded peasant from Franche-Comté maybe helped Courbet during his career, but it also concealed the real importance of his work The influence of the Commune Another event got involved in the myth of Gustave Courbet as a revolutionary: his commitment to the Commune. [...]
[...] However, many art critics claimed that he was a revolutionary artist in the 1850s and historians, such as Clark or Mayaud, continue to do so -even with different arguments. It is of interest to see that Courbet can still shock nowadays, but with a different kind of painting (even if it shocked in the 19th century as well): the Birth of the World, which shows a naked female body from the breast to the thigh and insists on the sex with an pornographic view. [...]
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