Gustave Courbet, Jo, La Belle Irlandaise, 1865-66



Gustave Courbet, Jo, La Belle Irlandaise, 1865-66, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York

Gustave Courbet, born on June 10, 1819, in Ornans, Doubs, France! Courbet was a leading pioneer of Realism, a movement that chose realistic representation of objects and people, in their everyday life, as opposed to Romanticism, a movement Courbet outspokenly opposed, which tends to glorify and exaggerate life and nature. Courbet was more focused on painting exactly what he saw, at some point denying a request to paint angels for a church, exclaiming, “Show me an angel and I will paint one!” In 1855, Courbet submitted fourteen paintings to the World Exposition, however, three of those submitted were rejected. Not one to stand down to authority, Courbet built his own gallery directly outside of the one where the World Exposition was held, hanging a banner outside that read “Realism”, and displayed close to forty of his paintings there, including the three that were rejected. One of Courbet’s most important works, The Burial at Ornans documents an actual event, the burial of his great uncle in 1848. This work is significant in a way that it depicts real people in real time, instead of using models. This is a huge painting, measuring at 10 feet by 22 feet, this is the type of grandiose scale which has usually been reserved for religious or historical paintings, so it comes as no surprise that this work attracted both praise and criticism. Courbet associated realism with anarchism, and when he wasn’t painting, Courbet would write democratic and socialist essays. During the Franco Prussian war, Courbet was elected the chairman of the Republican Arts Commission, a division of the French Commune, a revolutionary and radical socialist party which ruled Paris from March 18th to May 28th, 1871. During his time with the Commune, Courbet proposed that the Vendome Column located at Place Vendome, commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, which was made up of plates made of cannons taken out of battles in Europe and to commemorate France’s victory in Austerlitz, be destroyed, as it is a gruesome reminder of past battles and war. On May 16th 1871 the column was tore down and broken into pieces. On May 28th the French Army suppressed the Paris Commune, which caused Courbet to go into hiding, however, he was arrested on June 7th and at his trial on August 14th was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 500 Francs. In 1872 the newly appointed president of the Republic Patrice Mac Mahon has announced plans to rebuild the column, with funds coming from Courbet. Courbet was given a payment plan of 10,000 franc a year for 33 years. Unable to pay this amount and to avoid going broke, Courbet fled into self imposed exile to Switzerland, where he continued to paint and work until his death on December 31st, 1877 at the age of 58. Pictured here is Gustave Courbet, Jo, La Belle Irlandaise, 1865-66, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York

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