These are the 12 most famous paintings by Gustave Courbet, who was a French painter and a leader of the Realism movement in 19th-century France. He heavily influenced the impressionists and the cubists and occupied an important place as an innovator and creator who promoted his social statements through his work.
The Desperate Man (1843–1845)
This early self-portrait is one of the most famous paintings by Gustov Courbet. Titled The Desperate Man, this painting is Romantic in style and illustrates the smooth lines of the form. This painting depicts the artist as a mad genius and is autobiographical work depicting the artist in a moment of creative and personal crisis. Courbet used to comment, looking back on his early struggles “How I was made to suffer despair in my youth!”.
Man with a pipe (1848–49)
This painting is another Courbet’s self-portrait. He seems to be judiciously looking at the viewer. This is the only portrait that he parted with because he had kept all the others and even made one copy of this particular one that never left his studio. Courbet wrote: “It is the portrait of a fanatic, an ascetic. It is the portrait of a man who, disillusioned by the nonsense that made up his education, seeks to live by his own principles”.
The Wave (1869)
The Wave or The Waves is a depiction of Courbet’s fascination by the power of the sea. He spent the summer of 1869 on the Normandy coast and painted several paintings of waves breaking on the shore. He applied paint thickly using vigorous brush and palette knife strokes.
The Stone Breakers (1849)
This realist painting depicts two peasants, a young man and an old man, breaking rocks. As a work of realism, it shows a regular everyday scene of the peasant life. He did not show the faces of the workers, because they represent “every man” and are not meant to define specific individuals. This painting was destroyed during the World War II, when a transport vehicle that was moving this and other 154 paintings was bombed by Allied forces.
A Burial at Ornans (1849–50)
This painting is believed to be a turning point of the 19th century French art. The painting depicts a funeral in Courbet’s birthplace, the small town of Ornans in eastern France. It shows a provincial funeral with frank realism. This painting helped bring Realism to the attention of the public, but some historians, believe that Courbet had an influence on the Impressionist movement.
A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life (1855)
This painting was completed in six weeks. All the depicted figures are allegorical representations of the figures that the artist depicted in his paintings and are all gathered in his art studio for him to paint. The figures include people from all layers of society, his friends, but also representations of the academic tradition of art, a child, and a dog. This 19-foot-long painting is his expression of self-love and pride of his iron will.
The Origin of the World (1866)
This painting is described as a provocative icon of modern art. It depicts a close-up review of the female genitals and abdomen. She is lying on the bed, with spread legs, and the lack of depiction of the rest of her body, her head, arms and lower legs, only emphasizes the eroticism of the work. This painting shocked Courbet’s contemporaries and still has the same effect on the viewers today.
Femme nue couchée (1862)
This painting depicts a young dark-haired nude woman, reclining on a couch. She is only wearing stockings and a pair of shoes. It was hihly likely influenced by Goya’s La maja desnuda. After World War II it vanished without a trace, but resurfaced at the beginning of the 21st century when it was offered for sale to the Museum of Fine Arts by a Slovak man who claimed to be an antiques dealer, but appeared to be involved in the Slovak organized crime scene, and after years of negotiations, Interpol involved, and it was sold at an auction in 2015.
Portrait of Jo (1865–66)
Joanna Hiffernan was an Irishwoman, mistress and a model of the artists Whistler and Courbet. This p ainting was likely undertaken in 1865 when the two men painted together at the French seaside resort of Trouville. Courbet wrote of “the beauty of a superb redhead whose portrait I have began”.
Le Sommeil is an erotic painting depicting a lesbian couple. The painting is also known as Two Friends and Indolence and Lust. This painting was commissioned by the Turkish diplomat and art collector of the Ottoman period, who lived in Paris, Halil Şerif Paşa. Repetition of this theme, which created an impact on the 19th century art, helped lower the taboos associated with lesbian relationships.
Proudhon and His Children (1865)
This painting depicts a posthumous image of a French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who is shown with his two children reading and playing. The philosopher, who is dressed in a blouse, is posing with his left hand on his face and the right hand on his leg. He is seated on the steps in front of the entrance of his Parisian apartment. There are four books, a pencil case and a manuscript, under which traced in the stone, the viewer can read PJP 1853.
The Pont Ambroix Languedoc (1857)
This painting depicts the Pont Ambroix which was a 1st-century BC Roman bridge that was a part of the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in Gaul. This place contains three archaeological sites, an oppidum, the roman staging post, and the Pont Ambroix. In the High Middle Ages, a chapel devoted to St Mary was added to the structure and today, only one of the original eleven arches remains in the middle of the river.
What famous paintings by Gustave Courbet do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.