Gustave Courbet was born on June 10, 1819 in Ornans, France and died on December 31, 1877. He once said, “I cannot paint an angel because I have never seen one,” therefore, Courbet was a realist. In 1839, he entered the studio of Charles Steuben, where his artistic skills would be polished.
Courbet met Virginia Binet and had a son by her in 1847. Two years later, in 1849, Gustave returned to Ornans from Holland where his father had prepared a studio for him. In 1850, Binet left Gustave and took their son with her. Courbet was born into a farming family and wanted to be successful in order to be recognized by the public. However, for the first ten years of his artistic career, Courbet did not profit from his artwork; he would have to depend on his family for financial support.
Courbet’s L’Atelier du Peintre was created in 1855. According to, Modern European Art, “Atelier is not a realist picture; it does not show what Courbet’s studio was actually like while he was at work…” (p. 13). Through this painting, Courbet would be able to express himself; “the painting was to be an artistic testimony…it demonstrates that the artist can draw only from his own experiences, that all his acquaintances are subservient to his own creative drive” (p. 14).
L‘Atelier du Peintre later influenced two early works of the impressionist Edouard Manet; the first, The Old Musician and the second, La Musique aux Tuileries. In addition, in 1855, when The Artist’s Studio: A Real Allegory Concerning Seven Years of My Artistic Life was refused by the Art Academy, Courbet decided to start his own exhibition, Salon des Refusés, in a tent and charged admission. At this time, the cities in Europe were growing and the industrial revolution was in full swing.
Gustave Courbet painted The Artist’s Studio because he was in need of money. However, money was not the only reason for L‘Atelier du Peintre; he desired prestige, recognition, and most of all belonging. Courbet felt lonely: “behind this laughing mask of mine which you know, I conceal grief and bitterness, and a sadness…in the society in which we live, it doesn’t take much to reach the void.” Due to multiple rejections of his works by the art academy, Courbet felt unwanted. He travelled regularly between the 1850s and 1860s in order to distance himself from a government that he still believed was hostile to him.
Gustave’s use of dark colors to depict the people around him in The Artist’s Studio is due to his desire to express the artist’s new role in society. The Webmuseum notes that on the left-hand side of the picture are ordinary people, “those whose lives are of no consequence” (p. 15); however, on the right, two figures, writers George Sand and Charles Baudelaire, are evidently identifiable. The woman is portrayed nude observing Courbet as he adds to a painting of a landscape. This woman could be Virginia Binet, the mistress who bore Courbet his only child. The little boy standing directly in front of Courbet might be his child admiring the work of his father.
The people around him in the studio are painted with dark colors to draw more focus on Courbet. The contrast between light and dark allows Courbet to flatten space. Courbet did not rely on lines in order to illustrate the focal point of his art, instead, the low usage of light draws focus to the middle of the picture. By flattening space, Courbet moved away from the traditional style of painting.
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