Realism, New art Patrons, and the rise of genre paintings in the work of Courbet Essay

Realism, New art Patrons, and the rise of genre paintings in the work of Courbet

Introduction:

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The paper is about the painter Gustave Courbet. It gives detailed analysis of the paintings of Courbet along with his theme explained in a layman’s language. The main topic around which his paintings revolved was of realism. He had a certain aspect of reality in his all paintings.

Gustave Courbet:

Born in 1819, a French painter at Ornans near Besancon. He arrived in Paris at the age of twenty, proclaimed himself a student of nature, developed within a decade his own manner of painting and was heralded by his contemporaries as the initiator of realism. Disregarding formal composition as well as the remote subject matter of both classicism and romanticism, Courbet proposed to paint the word as it actually was. He thought that painting must condemn and assist the preparation of the problems of civilization. Thus he followed the idealistic socialism of Proudhon, became interested in political radicalism, and at the time of the Commune in 1871, headed a committee which decreed the destruction of the Vendome column, a symbol of imperialism. Condemned to prison and to a fine of a third of a million francs, Courbet escaped to Switzerland, where he spent his last years in exile and died December, 31st, 1877, in La Tour de Peilz, near Vevy (Connor Larr, pp. 1).

Courbet’s powerful paintings aroused much political and social opposition in France, but on visits to Antwerp, Munich and Frankfurt he found that they had won him foreign acclaim. Inasmuch as his style underwent no important developments after 1850, his work can most conveniently be classified according to content. One group of painting represents social types from contemporary life: After-Dinner at Ornans (1849), Burial at Ornans (1850, Louvre), The Stone Breakers (1184 Dresden), Real Allegory, Interior of My Studio Describing a Period of Seven Years of My Artistic Life (1855, Louvre), The Village Damsels (1851, Metropolitan Museum), The Bathers (1853, Metropolitan Museum) and Returning from the Council (1862), a painting burned by a collector because of its anticlerical tendency (Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, pp. 1). A second group includes those portraits that are outstanding in character delineation: Young Man with Leather Belt, Self-Portrait (1849, Louvre), Man with Pipe (1850, Louvre), M. Bruyas, His Patron (1849, Louvre), Baudelaire (18149, Montpellier), Proudhon and His Family (1865, Petit Palais, Paris) and The Nude if Munich (1869). The last and the largest group comprise landscapes, seascapes, and hunting scenes, which are in many collections and museums and show the artist at the height of his power. The Hunting Party (1857, Boston), The Stag Fight (1861, Louvre), Deer and Doe in the Forest (11866, Louvre) and The Wave (1870, Louvre) are examples of this group (Jane Turner, pp. 21).

Courbet’s Realism:

Realism, as a modern movement is a revolt against certain aspects of idealism. It denies that the universe is mental and assumes instead that it is material, and that objects and events exist in their own right. This is the principle of independence; the doctrine that human knowledge is knowledge of a real world that is “out there”, as universe that exists before a person’s birth and endures after his death. While man can use imagination and think almost anything, what he thinks must correspond to reality or it will be an illusion (Micheal Fried, pp. 60).

Critical Realism:

While the New Realists were thus developing a cosmology that made common cause at various points with idealism while ostensibly rejecting it, a group of seven American philosophers who referred to themselves as Critical Realists and prominent among whom were George Santayana (863-952) and A. O. Lovejoy (1873-1962), were moving in a different direction. In a cooperative volume called Essays in Critical Realism (1920) they argued, largely on the basis of the difficulties raised by the problem of illusions and hallucinations, that the objects of immediate experience cannot plausibly be held to be true parts of the physical world and that therefore the traditional dualism of given experience as against object of knowledge must be maintained. In what sense we can then be said to know a world that in its independent reality can never become a fact of experience was a further question about which these dualistic realists disagreed (Sarah Faunce, pp. 45).

Naïve Realism:

According to naïve realism, so-called because it is thought to be the view of people who have not reflected sufficiently about knowledge; sensations are in fact parts of the external things which they (the sensations) enable us to perceive. In 1910 the American New Realists, Ralph Barton Perry, E. B. Holt and others, wrote that perception is to be thought of “as analogous to a light which shines out through the sense organs, illuminating the world outside the knower”; they contrasted this “searchlight theory” with the “picture theory” of dualism and accepted the consequence that “things are just what they seem”. (James Henry Rubin, pp. 69) Dualists and idealists rejects this view on the ground that it would imply, for example, that when one looks down a railroad track the rails actually meet in distance. A. N. Whitehead and others constructed metaphysical systems to enable realism to accommodate such results. Still others believe that naïve realism is for the realist not the only alternative to dualism and idealism (Aruna D’Souza, pp. 1).

The Historical View of Realism:

The speculative view of realism has now developed. The notion that individuality is an essential aspect of all that is rare has been previously advanced by Leibniz in his history of monads. The peculiar feature of individuality is not limited mankind but is found in all living beings in nature. The evolutionary process itself is but an example of historical character of life, displaying ever new variety and individuality so the old belief in a fixed, absolute order of nature with processes monotonously following unchanging laws was really a thing of the past, belonging indeed to the historic era of Newtonian physics. Subsequently the new notion gained some corroboration from the Einstein theory of relativity, which showed how time could not be ignored even in the purely physical description of nature.

It seemed therefore to follow from all that was being learned in science and history that there is no absolute and permanent realism but that change history, and time are essential to all that is ever known. The historical character of realism was thus conspicuous in the universe, manifest both in the life of man and in the course of nature.

Thus, revolution was taking place in modern thought, comparable, perhaps, to those inaugurated by Descartes and Kant. Nature was conceived as changing in time and not as a fix system or perfect mechanism of law. Phenomena appeared in time and time affects them all. Furthermore, men had become accustomed to “naturalism”, thinking of phenomena and nature without the Kantian beyond nature or any ultimate, transcendent reality. Nature is all there is and it is identical with what men commonly call reality. Hence reality itself was thought of an essentially historical and temporal in character.

 From the days of Plato onwards, philosophy has pursued an ideal of permanent being or substance beyond time and change, and time and change had been regarded as ultimately real themselves but only appearances due to man’s limited existence and the transient world of sense. The abandonment of Platonic view of reality or being, along with the inclusion of time and historical aspects in the very concept of reality, constituted a veritable revolution of thought

Other Artists involved In Realism:

Groups of painters of the second half of the century centered their interest in verisimilitude in portrayal, and sentimental genre in subject Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) pictured upper class society; Carolus Duran (1838-1917) brought Francois Boucher’s voluptuousness up to date; Francois Bonvin (1817-1887) modernized the Dutch painters by reflecting women and children of the lower classes in the light of a tender and elevated Realism. Eugene Carriere (1849-1906) developed a Realism of sentient devoted largely to others and children, expressed by forms merging into shadows with the effect of soft-focus photography, and I. H. Fatin-Latour (1836-1904) used a similar method for the portraits of his serious and cultured sitters.

Realism of a sharper and more massive kind, stemming from Ribera and the Neapolitans, appeared in the character studies of Theodule Ribot’s (1823-1891) religious genre, and in the uncompromising portraits of Leon-Bonnat (1833-1922). Academic illustrator-realism of photographic accuracy, high finish and arrested motion, improving upon the earlier variety of Horace Vernet (1789-1863), reached its climax with the military painters of the Franco-Prussian War; Alphone de Neuville (183-1885), Edouard Detaille (1848-1912) and the most celebrated, Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891). Their pictures presented the homely sturdiness of the French soldier and the glory of French arms on parade, not the grimness of war or the pity aroused by suffering that had been expressed by Gros, Gericault and Delacroix.

A more profound Realism, emphasizing structural mass, density and resistance and embodying the general truth in the representation of particular phenomena was originated by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). His aim, vociferously and militantly proclaimed, was “to paint only what the eye sees … to translate the customs, ideas, and the aspect of my epoch, according to my understanding.” (Jeannene M. Przyblyski , pp.1) His subjects-farmers, stone-crushers, beggars, bibulous cures and nude young women of a formidable and quite un-aristocratic solidity outraged Second Empire taste by their socialistic implications, by their radical affirmation of actuality, and by what seemed frank vulgarity. By bringing convincingly real men and women onto the stage of art, which the idealized man of the Classicists had so long pre-empted, Courbet affected the democratic revolution in art he had set out to accomplish, and his example was symptomatic of the slowly evolving social revolution which he had hoped to accomplish at the same time (James Henry Rubin, pp. 30).

Theme of work of Courbet:

We are standing at roof-top of a 12 storey building. We see people walking on the road and they appear like ants to us. We see two lines and instantly draw conclusion that one line is slightly longer than the other where in reality those two lines were of exact same length. Those people who appear to us of size of an ant are not exactly what they appear to us. The things our mind often perceives as is not what it is at all. Realism differs quite a lot from what we are left to believe by our own conscious mind.

Realism by a simple definition is anything that is real, anything that can or cannot be explained with facts or anything that can or cannot be understood or perceived or touched, but actually does exists in this universe. The stars we see on a cloudless night, we see them we admire their bright light spread all over the sky. Centuries ago, people were of view that stars shine with their own light; it was the perception at that time but not the reality, until it was proven with facts that these tiny shiny dots have no light of their own but take it from sun. In a simple way, the world we live in is what it is regardless of how we perceive it. In its wildest sense, reality is what exists whether or not it is observable or understandable.

Imagine that you go to a garden, and there you see a flower and using all your senses, your mind processes the information input by your senses and perceives this flower you see as a red rose, but since you have flu you cannot smell the fragrance of this rose. You touch it and it feels soft. Now another person sees the same rose but he is color blind but can smell it all right and can feel it alright but for him, the color of that rose is a shade of grey. So in reality, rose is red and soft and also has a very sweet strong smell.

We can both look at a flower and say that it’s a lovely shade of pink but that’s just putting a handy label on an object, it does not convey anything about our perception of it. My reality is different from reality of every other individual on this planet. Any connection between realities of any two individual is purely a coincidence. Perception of all mankind cannot be unified to reality of this universe.

Patrons of Courbet’s Work:

Bruyas:

By tradition observed on behalf of Courbet’s appearance in Montpellier, welcomed by his benefactor Bruyas, who is escorted by his manservant Calas and his dog Breton, the work of art, The Bruyas, gives a picture of an invented pavement encounter involving artiste and patron. Actually, Courbet passed through to Montpellier by means of railway relatively than the horse-drawn carriage passing in the distance. Courbet represented the work of art on admired written descriptions of the Wandering Jew, conflating his uniqueness as a peripatetic artiste with that of the well-known shoemaker, predestined to meander for perpetuity.

Courbet displayed this effort in Paris at the Exhibition Universelle of 1855, where, in spite of his statements of its accomplishment to his supporter, the painting was extensively caricatured in the well-liked journals and contemptuously designated “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet.” At the back of the mockery lay the opponent’s appreciation that Courbet was its fundamental center of attention, with Bruyas concentrated to the responsibility of “the bystander … the man in the work of art of the Meeting.” (Sarah Faunce, 89) Bruyas did not demonstrate “The Meeting” once more until 1868, when he bestowed it to the Musée Fabre in Montpellier.

Khalil Bey:

He grew up to have an aversion to Saint Petersburg’s arctic and so gave up work in a confidential faculty to Paris in the middle 1860s, hiring luxurious accommodation from the English collector Lord Hertford on Rue Taitbout and turning into a prominent gambler, painting collector and supporter. He was familiarized to Gustave Courbet by Sainte-Beuve, and specially made Les Dormeuses (The Sleepers) and L’Origine du monde from him. He furthermore got his hands on Le Bain turc (The Turkish Bath) from Ingres and further workings by Eugene Delacroix, Troyon, Daubigney, Meissonier, Corot, Rousseau and Gerome. In January 1868 he traded off his collected works immediately earlier than parting to grow to be Ottoman representative to Vienna, therefore getting away of Paris merely 2 years sooner than the Franco-Prussian War. Subsequent to that redeployment he moved to Constantinople and wedded the offspring of one of the well-known reformers of the era. In 1877 he came back to Paris as Ottoman representative for only some months.

Jean-François Millet:

Courbet’s work, next to with the effort of Honoré Daumier and Jean-François Millet, turned out to be recognized as Realism. Educationally, realism is concerned primarily with helping the child understand and accept the demands make upon him by the laws of nature. The student’s first task is to master what man has already come to know, since this knowledge exists external to him as part of social reality. Following this, the student can be taught a problem-solving approach that will help him to learn new things from reality. The real task of education is to lead the child to establish effective relationships with the objects and events that surround him and to save him from vain illusions (Terry W. Strieter, 27).

References:

Turner, Jane. The Grove dictionary of art. Published by Oxford University Press US. (2000) Page 21

Fried, Micheal. Courbet’s Realism. Published by University of Chicago Press. (1992) Page 60

Strieter, Terry W. Nineteenth-century European art: a topical dictionary. Published by Greenwood Publishing Group. (1999) Page 27

Rubin, James Henry. Realism and Social Vision in Courbet & Proudhon. Published by Princeton University Press. (1980) Page 30 and 69

Faunce, Sarah. Gustave Courbet. Published by H.N. Abrams. (1993) Page 45 and 89

D’Souza, Aruna. The Most Arrogant Man in France: Gustave Courbet and the Nineteenth-Century Media Culture. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 90, 2008, Pp 1
Jeannene M. Przyblyski; Courbet, the Commune and the Meanings of Still Life in 1871.  Art Journal, Vol. 55, 1996. Pp 1

Gersh-Nesic, Beth S. The Original Rock Star: Monsieur Courbet. A Review of the Gustave Courbet Exhibition. The New York Times Company. (2009) Retrieved on 3rd April 2009 from: http://arthistory.about.com/od/special_exhibitions/l/bl_courbet_bgn_0408.htm

Larr, Connor. The Walters canonizes the forgery. The John Hopkins News Letter. College Publisher (2006) Retrieved on 3rd April 2009 from:
http://media.www.jhunewsletter.com/media/storage/paper932/news/2006/09/28/ArtsAndEntertainment/The-Walters.Canonizes.The.Forgery-2318052.shtml

 

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