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Gustave Courbet & revolutionary Art after 1848

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The myth of Gustave Courbet.
    1. Art without theorization.
    2. The influence of the commune.
  3. Courbet's technique.
    1. Social realism.
    2. The ugliness.
    3. The equality of popular and academic arts.
  4. Controversial subjects.
    1. Contesting the bourgeoisie?
    2. The world of the rural bourgeoisie.
    3. The Burial at Ornans: a republican allegory?
  5. Conclusion.

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. [...]


[...] The writer Champfleury, who was a close friend of Courbet and wanted to avoid a socialist interpretation of the painting, claimed that the painter wanted to show modern bourgeoisie, full-length, with its ridiculousness, its ugliness and its beauty?. Even tough the socialist interpretation remained the first one, Champfleury's interpretation portrait of the bourgeoisie- became more and more popular, especially after the Commune. In this view, the burial is seen as it was: an expensive and bourgeois privilege. But the people who attend it seem rather annoyed- even though the women are crying. [...]

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