Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet
Born on June 10, 1819 to an Ornans farmer, Gustave Courbet is one of the founders of French Realism. In his early 20's, he went to school in Paris, but ended up at the Louvre where he taught himself to paint. Radical in his beliefs, he painted the most common of hardships to spite the idealist vision of the Romantics. He was also politically active and during the Paris Commune, he was placed in charge of all the art museums in the city. After the commune fell, Courbet was briefly imprisoned for destruction of property and fled to Switzerland in 1873 where he died in 1877.
Despite the lack of a formal artistic training, Courbet mastered the techniques of realistic portrayal. Courbet's painting, like most paintings of the Realists movement in France, sets out to capture something plain. In many paintings, Courbet uses a limited palette to create that effect. His paintings are also quite simple in its composition and have thickly layered paints.
Courbet's innovation is more in his subjects than in technique. He paints common people doing common things—workers, peasants, etc. Its social implications lashes out at the Romantic ideal and pushes the viewer to face reality. The idea itself is bold because of the stark realism. The nudes in Courbet's paintings also drew a lot of attention. Unlike the idealized nudes of the Romantic era, there was an unflattering appearance to figures, which was shocking for many. The Bathers was the scandal of the 1853 Salon and it is said to have offended Napoleon III so much that he hit it with a whip.
The Artist's Studio
The Stone Breakers