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Burial at Ornans was the focus of attention and criticism at the Paris Salon of 1850-1. One of Courbet's first Realist paintings, it treated an ordinary event on the vast scale usually confined to 'history painting'.
Its autobiographical content is typical of Courbet's work. The Meeting commemorates the artist's first visit to his patron Alfred Bruyas, while The Winnowers shows his sisters sifting corn at the family I farm. In The Painter's Studio, Courbet himself occupies the centre of a vast allegorical composition.
Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine shows a lazy Sunday afternoon in Paris. It provoked another scandal: one of the girls is dressed only in her underwear. The Sleepers is even more risqué, but it was a private commission, and caused no public outcry.
The Trellis shows a less controversial response to the natural world, as does Cliffs at Etretat, where the large scale and fresh approach create a powerful impression of the raw grandeur of nature.
This huge painting contains nearly 60 life-size figures, the townsfolk of Ornans, gathered together for a funeral with male and female mourners separated according to Catholic custom.
It caused a tumult at the Salon. By painting on such a vast scale, Courbet turned an everyday incident into a historic event. It is this monumental treatment of contemporary daily life which makes this work one of Courbet's major Realist paintings.
City-dwelling observers saw it a 'glorification of vulgarity', and were threatened by the uncomfortably life-like portrayal of a rural community: these were no homely peasants, but real individuals with a complex class structure of their own The painting is steeped in Courbet's own experience: it shows his family, friends, local dignitaries and country people, and is set in the newly-consecrated cemetery on a hill outside his home town.
This painting Commemorates Courbet`s arrival outside Montpellier in May 1354 on the occasion of his first visit to the home of his patron Alfred Bruyas. It depicts a specific moment, ‘but the frozen gestures of the characters seem to have great significance. The painting is almost an emblematic of the social relationships between the three men. His “head held high, the artist meets his patron as an equal (perhaps as a superior), while Bruyas’ servant stand by with his head been in deference and humility. Indeed, one critic even described it as ‘Fortune bowing to Genius’. The composition is derived from a popular print of the Wandering law, the 19th-century personification of the ‘outside of with whom Courbet liked to identify himself.
The major inspirations for Courbet’s art were the activities and customs of the people he knew in his remote, rural homeland. In this striking image he shows the working life of the women at Ornans. The strapping robust young woman sifting grain has her back turned to the viewer, but she has been identified as Zoe Courbet, the artist's sister. The other figures in the bolting-room may be his youngest sister Juliette and his son Desire Courbet who would have been about six years old when the picture was painted. Although the artist has paid his usual attention to the physical objects in the scene, the derived from Japanese prints.
Courbet's subtitle suggests that this painting sums up his artistic life from 1848 and 1855 the years between the Revolutions mid the World Exhibition for which the painting was intended. He calls it a 'real allegory a seeming contradiction in terms, and one which indicates the complex nature of Courbet's art. For though his paintings are called, 'Realist' they are often symbolic in content.
Courbet described the 'allegory' in a letter to his friend Champfleury, stating that the figures on the left were those who 'live on death', while those on the right 'live on life'. Champfleury is portrayed in this right-hand group, along with other friends such as Proudhon and Baudelaire. Courbet, of course, occupies centre stage.
While the figures on the right are recognizable portraits of Courbet's colleagues, those on the left whom the artist originally described as 'types' have only recently been given individual identifications by the art historian Helene Toussaint. They include a disguised portrait of the Emperor Napoleon III and various ex-Republican turncoats, along with European freedom fighters, whom Napoleon and his ministers were supporting perhaps sun ply to consolidate their power. The selection committee of the World Exhibition did not recognize any such subversive message in the painting, but they rejected it even so. It became the centre-piece of Courbet's one-man show, the 'Pavilion of Realism'.
Begun in Ornans in 1856 and finished in Paris in time for the 1857 Salon, this painting of two young women resting in the shade after a Sunday walk along the river shocked polite Parisian society. While the girl in the background leans against a tree-trunk, resting her chin in her lace-mittened hand, her friend has stripped off her dress and sprawled out on the grass: she lies on the warm riverbank in her chemise, corset and petticoats. Her eyes are half-closed in a suggestive sideways gaze which implies the presence of an observer presumably a male. Proudhon interpreted the painting as a comment on the loose morals of 'kept women', but it seems more likely that Courbet simply delighted in the lazy sensuousness of the weekend scene, and the delicate textures of the girls' fashionable clothes.
In 1862 Courbet began a year-long visit to his friend Etienne Baudry at his chateau near Saintes in France. Perhaps inspired by his friend's interest in botany, he painted a great number of flower pictures during his stay. This is one of the most delightful examples. Divided into two distinct sections, it shows a gorgeous display of blooms being tended by a young woman, whose floral-print dress echoes the flowers on the trellis. It recalls the symbolic flower paintings of the 17th century Dutch Masters which glorified love and youth. Grouped together on the trellis are flowers which bloom in spring, summer and autumn symbolizing the stages of life and love? But Courbet's typical shallow picture space has left little room for the girl herself; with her darkly outlined face, she appears like a cut-out.
Courbet painted this sensuous picture of lesbian love for Kahlil Bey, a wealthy Turk with an extravagant taste for erotica. Whistler's mistress Jo Heffernan modelled for one of the lovers, whose lost innocence is symbolized by the broken string of pearls.
The dramatic shoreline at Etretat in Normandy attracted painters throughout the 19th century. Courbet painted this magnificent, delicately balanced composition during the summer of 1869, but dated it 70'.
Writer – Marshall Cavendish