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Art History

Gustave Courbet: biography

Gustave Courbet was born on 10 June 1819 in Ornans, the son of a rich landowner. In 1837 he started at the Collège Royal de Besançon where he attended the courses held by Charles-Antoine Flajoulot, one of David’s pupils. He moved to Paris at the end of 1839. Although he entered the law faculty in 1841, he spent most of his time in the Louvre, mainly copying Velázquez and Rembrandt. In 1844, following three years of rejections, Courbet was accepted by the Salon with Courbet with a Black Dog, and the following year the “Guitarrero” was accepted. In 1847, he had a child with Virginie Binet. He supported the 1848 revolts that led to the proclamation of the Second Republic. Taking advantage of the suppression of the jury, he exhibited ten works at the Salon, including Valpurga Night. During this period he went regularly to the Café Andler, a meeting place for artists and intellectuals, where he struck up friendships with Champfleury, Proudhon and Baudelaire. Of the eleven paintings he exhibited at the Salon of 1849, the State acquired After Dinner at Ornans, which was also awarded a medal. He submitted the large scale Burial at Ornans to the 1850-1851 Salon, the painting arousing much criticism. Each year the paintings Courbet sent to the Salon led to debate, for example, The Young Ladies of the Village, acquired by the Count de Momy (Napoleon III’s step-brother). In 1853, he met the banker Alfred Bruyas, who bought two paintings sent to the Salon (The Bathers, openly criticised by the Empress, and The Sleeping Spinner). The following year he began work on the Painter’s Studio for the Exposition Universelle of 1855; however, the jury rejected the work and Courbet decided to organise a one-man show in the Realism Pavilion, built near the Salon. The catalogue contains a veritable Manifesto of realism. He again exhibited in 1857, and once again one of his paintings, The Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine, caused great debate. He gained recognition and fame in 1861 when he exhibited five works at the Salon, including The Season of Love in Spring (or Deer Fight). He spent the summers of 1865 and 1866 on the Normandy coast painting many seascapes and portraits, among which is Jo, The Beautiful Irish Girl. During these years, Courbet speculated in ventures such as the construction of the Alma Pavilion (1867), to house his second one-man show exhibiting one hundred and fifty paintings, drawings and sculptures. He spent the summer of 1869 in Etretat in Normandy, where he painted the “Wave” series, exhibited to critical acclaim at the 1870 Salon. Following Napoleon III’s defeat at Sedan in September, he was elected president of the Federation of Artists. Due to his participation in the Commune (from April 16 to May 11 1870) and his speech in favour of destroying the Vendôme Column, he was arrested and sentenced to six months in jail. Freed in March 1872, he was sentenced again in 1873, following which he decided to become an exile: on 23 July he travelled to Switzerland with the help of Lydie Jolicler. He died on 31 December 1877 in La Tour-de-Peiliz. His remains were not moved to the Ornans cemetery until 1919.

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