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Realism in Art, Gustave Courbet, Research Paper Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1183

Research Paper

Literary critics often say that writing reveals as much- or even more- about the author than it does about the story—the same could be said of artists and their works. The majority of Corbet’s works focused on the morbidity of life and death or nude women often accompanied by some small and adorable animal. Although Gustave Courbet painted artwork during the early Realism period, even the presentation of a human subject in various natural reactions permanently captures candid images laced with the author’s subtle humor. His unconventional approach immortalized him as a father of an entire artistic movement which replaced romantic heroes and long-haired maidens in distress with dirty subjects in the city, beautiful nudes relaxing in the privacy of their grounds and waters, and planter’s pots brimming over with leaf and flower. The art tells us more about Courbet than his history; it explains his past, the evolution of the time period in which he lived, and the modern direction to which the world quickly gravitated.

What examples illustrate Courbet’s humor?

Gustave Courbet’s sense of irony shows through in the expression of his subject’s faces and bodies, his use of elements of background, and his selection of titles. Courbet’s painting “The Origins of the World” centers on a single image which overtakes the foreground: a woman’s nude pubic region. A flash of breast shows as well, but even this unforgiving Realism also presents a lesson of sorts, as the observer identifies sexuality as the crude means to a necessary function of reproduction. All romantic notion of ulterior motive is disregarded in favor of the simplest explanation. “Bathers or Two Nude Women” depicts two women lounging around and ironically contains no water in the actual scenery. The lethargic women appear more interested in talking with each other than in getting anything accomplished. His later 1866 work “La Sommeil” likewise questions what its subjects are really doing, as two naked women sleep entangled in what appears to be a lovers’ embrace. The nude “Woman in White Stockings” draws the eye to the stockings and where the creases of the woman’s legs meet her sexual organs.[i]

If Courbet’s works were placed on a continuum, the light-hearted satires of the nudes rest on one end, the landscape and other natural subjects in the middle, and the dark pity of a life of service on the other end. The humor of the servitude artworks lays in its stark contrast to his playful nudes, and each subject looks as broken or bewildered as his nudes look useless and lascivious. The paintings of a corpse girl being dressed and of a funeral appear festive, and the onlooker may perceive death as a joyful release from the affliction of a hard and hopeless life in the lower class.

How is Courbet’s work affected by his environment?

Courbet grew up in a small and impoverished village. His parents were reported to be very kind, intelligent, dutiful, and enlightened, philosophically inclined to embrace the simple life, but his grandfather wielded the most influence over him, openly discussing modern politics and passing on one of young Gustave’s favorite tales, the legend of William Tell.[ii] Thus the seeds of his anti-establishment perspective ran deep, and the desire to create a permanent impression upon the world developed early in his youth. Four sisters- three of whom lived into adulthood- seemed to live peacefully but have little effect upon his rebellious loner perspective.[iii] Perhaps as a tribute to the serenity of his country childhood, Courbet painted landscapes throughout his life, although his interest in the morbid or lazy developed along the same timeline as his personal philosophies. Flowering or blossoming are events of promise, life, and rebirth, and many of his landscapes featured such motifs against a country backdrop. This paternal love for the country never outweighed his determination to make a lasting impact upon the world in a manner which suited his vocational preferences. For years he lived in the deep of change, in the city, drifting through the grass roots arts movements. During these years, Baudelaire calls him a poseur.[iv]

How is Courbet’s Realism representative?

Courbet, like the other artists of this period, attempted to depict truth as simplicity. However, in this attempt they frequently created layers of themselves in their art, interpretive nuances which leant the very romantic mystery which Realism spurned. The distinction lays in the nature of the subject. Baudelaire once strove to write an essay about Courbet and scribbled two lines for later use:

Analysis of Nature, the talent of Courbet, of morality

Courbet saving the world.[v]

Even in the earliest years of their acquaintance, Baudelaire found Courbet ‘bizarre’ and ‘in revolt’ against any long-established belief. Courbet came into adulthood just as the artistic revolution blossomed.[vi] At first glance, onlookers attribute the indolent women to a simple misogynistic bias. However, the women- and their pampered little pets- illustrate the feigned usefulness of aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. The earlier mention of both morbidity and frivolity serve to highlight this contrast between the entitled bourgeoisie and the poverty of the working class.

As Baudelaire noted, nature creates opportunities for analysis in Courbet’s works. Deeper analysis reveals that the presence of natural elements operates as the window into the truth behind the tongue-in-cheek images which Courbet creates in the foreground, the “rich direct physical contact between the self and nature.”[vii] Likewise, Courbet’s experimentation with various techniques develop as his artistic skill continues to increase. His “Self-Portrait With a Black Dog” showcases a new trait: the use of the palette knife.[viii]

The myriad of images may confuse the onlooker. They may have to look twice or read further to know what lies under the given image on the canvas. They may argue and persuade and study and guess and come up with only one definite answer: Courbet rejected truth in favor of the reality he saw. He saw the verdant countryside; he saw the fat aristocracy scorn any serious study of their responsibilities; he saw the poor get poorer and cling to their lives and families- much like Courbet’s ‘Desperate Man’. Through the social looking-glass, Courbet redefined a generation and centralized it around what he showed the world. Courbet himself acknowledged this role, aptly naming one painting “The Studio of the Painter, A Real Allegory”.

[i] “Gustave Courbet: The Complete Works.” www.gustavecourbet.org (accessed 11 May 2013).

[ii] Lindsay, Jack. Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art. New York, San Francisco, London: Icon Editions: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973: 2-3.

[iii] Lindsay 4-6

[iv] Clark, Timothy J. Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution. University of California Press, 1999: 25.

[v] Clark: 25

[vi] Clark 23

[vii] Lindsay, Jack. Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art. New York, San Francisco, London: Icon Editions: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973: 5-6.

[viii] Mack, Gerstle. Gustave Courbet: A Biography. United States of America. Da Capo Press, 1951: 35.

Bibliography

“Gustave Courbet: The Complete Works.” www.gustavecourbet.org (accessed 11 May 2013).

Clark, Timothy J. Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution. University of California Press, 1999.

Lindsay, Jack. Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art. New York, San Francisco, London: Icon Editions: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973.

Mack, Gerstle. Gustave Courbet: A Biography. United States of America. Da Capo Press, 1951.

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