Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who headed the Realist movement during the 19th-century. The Realist movement joined the Romantic Movement with the Barbizon School and the Impressionists. Courbet captures an important place in 19th century French painting as a trendsetter and as an artist willing to make brave and daring social interpretation throughout his artwork.
Courbet painted symbolic compositions, landscapes and still-lifes. He encouraged controversy by addressing social issues in his work, and by painting subjects that were considered vulgar, such as the rural bourgeoisie, peasants, and working conditions of the poor. His work belonged neither to the predominant Romantic nor Neoclassical schools. History painting, which the Paris Salon esteemed as a painter’s highest calling, did not interest Courbet, who stated that “the artists of one century are basically incapable of reproducing the aspect of a past or future century …”Instead, he believed that the only possible source for a living art is the artist’s own experience.
His work became known as Realism art. For Courbet realism dealt not with the precision of line and form, but demanded spontaneous and rough handling of paint, advocating direct observation by the artist while depicting the anomalies in nature Courbet depicted the harshness in life, and in so doing challenged contemporary academic ideas of art.
In the oil painting “A Burial at Ornans” Courbet has depicted a depressed and gloomy scene of his great-uncle’s funeral at his hometown Ornans. This painting was a major turning point of the 19th century French art. This painting was created in 1849-50. In the painting we can see the family gathered around the burial site. History on this painting states that the funeral was held in September of 1848. Courbet has given the feel that it is late summer early autumn by the clothes and scenery. Although this pieces is highly respected now, it was very controversial at its times. Its first fault of the time was its size. This artwork measured 10’ x 20’; this size of canvas was usually help for more significant events in history, such as an important event of a hero or hierarchy figure. Another thing that he did from the norm was his models were the actual people who attended his great-uncle’s funeral. It was most typical to use actors as models for historical paintings. Since he wanted it to feel so real he had the actual attendees stand in as his model. Lastly the mourners’ faces and poses that he painted were not up to standard. Their faces seem more caricatured than ennobled and their poses are not theatrical gestures of grief that were typically painted in scenes like this. As you can see Courbet strived to depths of this painting to achieve realism and he was able to achieve this through breaking barriers and being innovative.
Looking at his second successful painting “The Stonebreakers” created in 1850 is an oil painting on 65 in × 128 in canvas. “The Stonebreakers” was another piece that Courbet showed and received much criticism as well. This pieces artwork portrayed a large amount of political prejudice. In “The Stonebreakers” we see two men, one older male and one younger. These two men are working a lower class job breaking down rocks to use as gravel. He is showing the struggles and the backbreaking work that these two men are going through to make an honest living. We see the young man struggling to lift the basket of gravel and the older gentlemen down on one knee smashing the boulders. As we see these two roughly dressed, their clothes are very ragged, as they have been torn up from the laborious trade. One of the most sticking things about this piece is that both male figures are not facing the viewer. Many believe this to be as they are to represent the lower class as a whole. They are the man subject matter in this piece as they are painted largely in the foreground and take up most of the canvas space. This was unlike any previous paintings and glorified the working class. His disinterest in perspective and depth challenge the art world along with his rough painting style. Overall “The Stonebreakers” challenged the art world by showing the tension and turmoil between the upper and lower class.