Research Point B – 2 Contrasting Artists, Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet auto retrato

For this research point I was to find two artists who work in contrasting ways: from tight, rigorous work to a more sketchy style. For the artist who worked in a sketchy style I had already researched Egon Scheile in Part A so now it was time to find an artist who did more tight, rigorous work.

I was all ready to research a modern artist for this part of this research point and discovered Grant Wood while looking at Egon Schiele’s work, but then on a last minute search I found another artist that was just as new to me.

While searching for images  I came across a picture that I had seen many times and for some obvious reason I thought was a picture of Johnny Depp in one of his movie rolls. I was surprised to find out that it was a self-portrait called ‘A Desperate Man’ by an artist called Gustave Courbet, the father of realism and even more interesting the artist that first coined the phrase.

Born in Ornans, France to a wealthy family, Gustave Courbet went to Paris in 1841 with the intention of studying law but soon decided that he would study painting and did so by copying the paintings of the French, Flemish and Spanish masters in the Louvre.

His style was shaped near the start of his career when he chose direct his paintings to observed reality, among his early paintings were self portraits portraying himself in various roles he also painted seascapes, still-lifes and figurative compositions.

Courbet’s figurative work was somewhat controversial because he addressed social issues in his paintings portraying subjects that were considered vulgar at the time such as rural hierarchy, peasants and the poor working conditions of the underprivileged.

Courbet’s style became known as realism however instead of using perfect line and form in his paintings he dealt with realism with spontaneous brush strokes and a rough handling of paint achieving a sense of direct observation by the artist while depicting the inconsistency in nature.

Although Gustave Courbet and Egon Schiele are artists of two different movements living at two different times their lives are very similar in that they seem to demonstrate freedom of expression in their art by painting subjects that were pornographic or controversial at that time. The poses by Courbet’s nudes such as La Femme Aux Bas Blancs, (Woman with White Stockings), 1861 and The Origin of the World (L’Origine du monde) (1866) remind me very much of Schiele’s paintings; as though Schiele could have been influenced by the artist. Both artist’s also served time in prison.

I’m not particularly turned on by the works of the old masters and so there are a lot of Gustave’s paintings that I don’t find appealing, but there are two or three that I think are brilliant simply because I can imagine how sensational they were at that time being so ‘real’ when photography was still in it’s infancy. – The Origin of the World (L’Origine du monde) (1866)

Gustave Courbet auto retrato
Self-portrait (The Desperate Man), c. 1843–1845 (Private collection)
Gustave Courbet Autoportrait
The man with a pipe Self-portrait, 1848-49



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