Happy Birthday Gustave Courbet!

Gustave Courbet, born June 10, 1819, was a groundbreaking artist as well as a firebrand social commentator. Strong political views influenced his early works, which included depictions of peasants and laborers in ragged clothing intended to represent those marginalized segments of society that struggled to get by in the shadow of refined French culture. Naturally, in these depictions Courbet was aiming for a presentation of heightened realism to make his commentary abundantly clear. So well-known were Courbet’s political persuasions that he was briefly imprisoned following the 1871 Commune of Paris, a revolutionary socialist government that managed to control the city from March 18 to May 28 before being suppressed by the French Army. 

Gustave Courbet, Panoramic View of the Alps, Les Dents du Midi, 1877. Oil on fabric, Framed - h:172.00 w:230.00 d:8.50 cm (h:67 11/16 w:90 1/2 d:3 5/16 inches) Unframed - h:151.20 w:210.20 cm (h:59 1/2 w:82 3/4 inches). John L. Severance Fund and various donors by exchange.

Panoramic View of the Alps, Les Dents du Midi is a work typical of a later period of Courbet when, living in exile in Switzerland, he focused largely on landscapes. However, the change of scenery and subjects did not dampen Courbet’s feisty revolutionary spirit. Courbet was known to disregard the standard rules governing French painting. In Panoramic View of the Alps, his rejection of a detailed academic style is manifest in his use of spotting to break up objects—a technique that looks forward to the works of the Impressionists. His unconventional approach can also be seen in the heavy use of the palette knife (a tool used generally to handle paint on the palette) to achieve greater nuance by applying and scraping off paint. This painting, intended for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1879, remained unfinished at Courbet’s death in December 1877. The unfinished portion is on the lower right.


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Reference: Oxford Art Online)


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Benjamin Francisco

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Benjamin Francisco is a Cello Performance major at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and an intern in the Communications and Marketing Department at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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