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


Research Point 2 Contrasting Artists A – Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele - Seated Woman with Bent Kneee 1917

For this research point I was to find drawings by two artists who work in contrasting ways: from tight, rigorous work to a more sketchy style.

I decided to research the artist who works in a sketchy style first.  While I have tried to find new artist so far in this module for this part of this research point I decided to research an artist I was already familiar with as when I saw the words ‘sketchy style’ he was the first artist that popped into my head and rightly so.

Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele  was born in Tulin in 1890. His father Adolph Schiele was the station master at Tulin Railway station and as a child Egon was fascinated by trains and would spend many hours drawing them. It is said that his passion for drawing started at the early age of 1 and a half years old and this led his father to believe is son would become an engineer and so at eleven years old was sent off to attend a Realgymnasium 25 miles away from his home town. Due to lack of friends and lack of interest in his studies he was a poor student and was kept back two years. When his father died of syphilis in 1905 family problems made his situation worse and eventually was politely asked to leave school by his teachers

In 1906 he asked his mother and uncle to allow him to apply at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and in the summer of that year, passed the tough entrance exam to became the youngest student ever to attend his class. Although he was passionate about art he showed a resistance to the strict regimen at the academy. As a brilliant draughtsman he would get through projects in minutes that would take other students in his class hours to complete but his early works were heavy handed and his soulless depictions of professional models did not amuse his tutors who simply gave him grades of ‘satisfactory.’

Schiele’s early work showed traits of Gustav Klimt and then in 1908 after a visit to a the large art show known as the ‘Kunstschau’ where a room full of the artists’ paintings were on show the influence of Klimt emerged full blown in Schiele’s paintings. He saw himself as the new Klimt and paraded round Vienna calling himself the ‘Silver’ Klimt and against the Academy’s authority accepted invitations to exhibit at the ‘Kunstschau’. In 1909 Schiele and a few of his like-minded class mates handed over a formal letter of protest to the academy expressing their disapproval at the academy’s rigid rules and withdrew themselves from the school.

By 1910 Egon Schiele’s unique expressionist style had gotten him many admirers including Gustav Klimt himself who bought several of his paintings and also offered to exchange some for his own. Klimt also introduced him to patrons and collectors and he thought that leaving the academy had turned out to be a wise career move but that wasn’t to be the case. Klimt was very vain and expected his works to be snapped up by the patrons who he had hoped would show him devotion but the truth was they didn’t find him the least bit cooperative and found his commissioned works, far too sexually explicit. Feeling let down he left Vienna for the countryside.

Egon Schiele led a short life dying at the early age of 28 of the Spanish flue in the epidemic that swept Europe in 1918 but his short life was somewhat controversial. At 21 years old he was imprisoned for seducing an underage girl and during his arrest the officials destroyed many of his drawings that were regarded at the time as pornographic due to the nature of his subjects. He spent a total of only 24 days in custody but during that time he a created a ‘series of 12 paintings depicting the difficulties and discomfort of being locked in a jail cell’ – Wikipedia.

His work was shaped by World War I during which he was drafted up and stationed in a Russian prisoner of war camp; however he still continued to paint and was even given a disused store room to be used as a studio where he painted captured Russian officers.

His style changed over the years  he was influenced by Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka and his early works from 1907 to 1909 resembled those of Klimt but in 1010 began experimenting with nudes and began developing his own unique style that we know today, pasty soulless doll like figures with strong overtones. Many view his works as pornographic, twisted or erotic depicting death, sex and discovery and yet I see his works as simply brilliant and way ahead of their time; paintings that have influenced so many artists since.

I first came across Schiele’s work in the music room at my secondary school, a poster of his ‘Self Portrait of Saint Sebastian’ but it wouldn’t be til many years later that i would find out the name of the artist or what the painting was called.

Egon Schiele - Self Portrait as Saint Sebastian
Egon Schiele – Self Portrait as Saint Sebastian

My favourite paintings by Schiele have got to be the Fighter 1913 and Seated Woman with Bent Knee 1917, although I have to admit I do love a nude or two of his which are simple, crude but very erotic.

Egon Schiele - Seated Woman with Bent Kneee 1917
Egon Schiele – Seated Woman with Bent Kneee 1917
Egon Schiele - Fighter, 1913
Egon Schiele – Fighter, 1913

I love the way he has clearly thought hard about the subjects (maybe a bit too hard from what we know of Schiele) and yet his paintings are no more than coloured sketches on a plain background, allowing him to show movement and even though some regard his subjects as being ‘soulless’ I don’t think they can be accused of being lifeless. I can see how it is easy to be influenced by an artist such as Schiele and I know that his paintings will come to mind in the ‘Drawing Figures’ part of this course.


Reinhard Steiner : Egon Scheile