Gustave Courbet

Committed to painting only what he could see, Courbet challenged academic convention and the Romanticism of the previous generation of artists. This rebellious nature set an example that was important to later artists, such as the Impressionists.


About the artist: Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) was a French painter who led the Realism movement in 19th-century French painting. He occupies an important place in 19th-century French painting as an innovator willing to make bold social statements through art.

Courbet’s paintings of the late 1840s and early 1850s gained him recognition and, later, controversy. They challenged convention by depicting the rural bourgeoisie, peasants living in poverty and other working-class people, and were often large scale pieces traditionally reserved for paintings with religious or historical themes. His work became known as Realism.

Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine, painted in 1856, was the subject of much debate. Art critics accustomed to conventional nudes in landscapes were shocked by this new and ‘scandalous’ depiction of modern women casually displaying their undergarments.

Throughout his life, Courbet also painted landscapes, seascapes, hunting scenes, nudes and still lifes.

An active socialist, Courbet was interested in the political developments of France at the time. In 1871, he was imprisoned for his involvement with the Paris Commune, and lived in exile in Switzerland from 1873 until his death.