Day By Day

Monday, November 27, 2006


That afternoon "She Who Must Not Be Named" and I went up to the Walters to view their small exhibit of landscapes by Gustave Courbet. I like Courbet. He was self-taught and went on to be an immensely successful purveyor of art. He worked fast, and together with his numerous students and assistants turned out a prodigious amount of work that was snapped up by the Parisian bourgeoisie.

The first painting below was in the exhibit and is one of my favorites. In it you can see that Courbet, though he is classified as a "realist", displays strong neo-classical elements in some of his work. He's a complex guy with an enormous range of techniques. The second painting, "Houses of the Chateau d'Omans" was not in the exhibit, but I included it because it is probably my favorite of all his work. The third picture, which was part of the exhibit, is more typical of his landscapes -- messy, romantic, slap-dash product for display in a middle-class parlour, but it also displays some hint of impressionist tendencies, probably because that was an easy way to slap paint on the canvas.

One of the things I like best about Courbet is that his styles were so popular and efficient that he was widely copied, and that fact confounds experts who are often unable to distinguish the real Courbets from the fakes. The whole problem is compounded because he often did portions of a painting and left the rest to students to finish. Anything that causes problems for the "experts" gets my vote.

I also like Courbet's commercial sensibility and his view of art as ornament and as a marketable product. Additionally, I like his republican sentiments, which caused him troubles in later life when he got mixed up with the Communards [not a smart move]. And I like his irreverent approach to his craft. He could be sappy and sentimental when the market demanded it, but he could also be shocking or deliberately ugly if that's what the customers wanted. Warning! Some of his stuff is downright pornographic. Check out, for instance, "The Origin of the World" here. Warning: Not work safe!

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