Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)

French

The pivotal French painter Gustave Courbet has often been called the father of realist painting. Born in Ornans to a prosperous farming family, Courbet initially taught himself to paint by copying paintings he saw at the Louvre, especially the works of 17th century naturalists such as Velazquez and Caravaggio.

Scorning the romantic and academic themes of his time, he developed his own distinctive style characterized by its technical mastery, compositional simplicity and bold palette. Courbet sought to paint the world as it actually was, eloquently exploring the depths of realism. Later he would align with the emerging Barbizon painters and by 1849 had secured his rank among the world’s great artists.

Courbet won many awards at the Paris Salon and in 1871 was appointed President of the Art Commission. However, his radical political activism brought severe criticism and eventually public disfavor. He died in 1877, like so many great artists, lonely and despondent. But regardless of his disheartening demise, Courbet’s significant contributions to the art world have not been forgotten.

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