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Gustave Courbet: Revolutionary Artist of Romanticism Essay

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Updated: May 18th, 2021

Introduction

Gustave’s ideas about liberty radicalized his beliefs in academic institutions, churches, or the dogmatic philosophical subscriptions of his time. His “deviation” from ideology constructs portrayed him as a “revolutionary artist” during the Romanticism era.

The stonebreakers

In an era when the industrial revolution was at its helm, the bourgeoisie was the powerbroker in the society. They controlled most of the productions and economic gateways, thus leaving the low-class indigent and destitute. The emerging class of the rich in the society wielded immense influence; it was unimaginable to ruffle them wrongly. In the painting, The Stonebreakers, Gustave declared unconventional “war” against the bourgeoisie by depicting the peasants as tools for the rich.

The artist showed several peasants working as stonebreakers in mines owned by the opulent. This was quite revolutionary since it was a new thematic expression of the issues in society. In terms of style, the intentional assumption of the predominant use of smooth lines and soft forms as used by the Romanticists pointed to his deviation from the conventional painting style. The work, Stonebreakers, employed the use of very rough texture unusual of the painting style of the epoch.

In an era where religion was a major “windmill” in the social, political, and economic constructs, the painting was limited to the confines of biblical canons. There was a predictable theme in most Romanticist paintings. Most artists limited themselves to highlighting biblical themes. When Gustave painted Burial at Ornans, it was clear that he was poking the church and challenging the authority of the powerful institution. While the clergy is visible from the background of the work, the decision by the painter to focus on the dog in the foreground was even more appalling. It offended the church that the painter pushed biblical issues to the periphery and focused on insignificant issues in the foreground.

Edouard Manet

Manet’s adamancy that art must not be yolked by any conventional “paddock” has been witnessed throughout his works. His beliefs of “free-flowing” art, as opposed to the classical purview that any painting must circumscribe to a given opinion are affirmed in his works.

Luncheon at the grass

This work was first exhibited in 1863 but later condemned to Salon des Refusés where rejected works were kept. The jury, while showing the magnitude of the painter’s radicalism, rejected the work due to the “obscene theme” expressed. The phantasmagorical depictions in the work where nude women comfortably mingled with men of higher social stratum were inexcusable. It was quite absurd to depict such a scene in public when the moral thread in the society was very strong. While the pressures of “modernism” and its implications in art were far from being experienced at the time, Edouardo embraced liberal styles that relegated the predominant Romanticisms into the fringes.

Olympia

Olympia was a quintessential depiction of how Edouardo deviated from the conservative academic tenets of art through style. Other than the depiction of a nude yet wealthy woman receiving flowers from a Blackman, the obvious digression from the prescripts of “academy” in the era was revealed through the styles used by the artist. With a very shallow depth and broad strokes of the brush, the work was clearly out of touch with the common rules of painting as prescribed by art scholars in that era.

In summary, the revolutionary “accent” of Olympia stems from the fact that nudity in public was a foreign affair in days when the church has defined the rubric of morality in the society. Edouardo ignored the church provisions to express himself in Olympia. From the study of the two works, it is palpable that the deviation from the conventional provisions of art was waged on two fronts, from the thematically content and from the stylistic template.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Gustave Courbet: Revolutionary Artist of Romanticism'. 18 May.

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