Caricature of Courbet by AndrĂ© Gill from LâEclipse, 2 July 1870 MFM.MF45
Gustave Courbet, who started painting in the 1840s, is well-known for his large-scale realist works focusing on themes and subjects of everyday life. He favoured landscapes and genre scenes (as opposed to religious, historical or mythological topics), without trying to idealise or romanticise them. Courbet was often attacked and criticised in the satirical press for his artistic stance, susceptible to offend the tastes of a bourgeois audience, as his paintings contrasted with the academic works exhibited through the established Parisian Salon, an annual event originally organised by the AcadĂ©mie Royale de peinture et de sculpture in the Salon carrĂ© in the Louvre palace.
Above: âLe Salon dĂ©peint et dessinĂ© par Bertallâ, Le Journal pour rire, No 91, 25 June 1853. LOU.F117. Below: Gustave Courbet, Les baigneuses, 1853 (MusĂ©e Fabre, Montpellier)
Courbet and his realist paintings led to many caricatures, as from the 1850s onwards they were engulfed in the publicity deriving from the annual Salon and the Expositions universelles, which were accompanied by thorough guides, accounts and widely disseminated reports, often written by personalities of the time such as Daumier, Baudelaire or Diderot. Whether as individual articles published in the satirical press or collected in dedicated Albums circulating in parallel with the official ones, the extent of the humoristic illustrated reviews of the artworks exhibited at the Salons was such that they have been called âSalons caricaturauxâ. Courbet, who liked to stage himself, and enjoyed society, took advantage of the artistic and political scandal surrounding him. In 1855 and 1867, he organised himself private exhibitions of his work as an alternative to the official Salon. Finally, despite their satirising and comical intent, some caricatures showed him and his works in a positive light.
AndrĂ© Gill, âCourbetâ, Le salon pour rire, 1868, reproduced in Charles LĂ©ger, Courbet selon les caricatures et les imagesâŠ (Paris, 1920.) 7860.g.23.
In Gillâs caricature, shown above, Courbet is portrayed as a bulging, bearded man, wearing clogs and smoking a pipe on top of two pictures exhibited at the 1868 Salon, Le chevreuil chassĂ© aux Ă©coutes, printemps (The Hunted Roe Deer on the Alert) and LâAumĂŽne dâun mendiant Ă Ornans (The Charity of a Beggar at Ornans), where the beggar is depicted as a scarecrow.
The two pictures caricatured by Gill. Above: Le chevreuil chassĂ© aux Ă©coutes, printemps, 1867 (MusĂ©e dâOrday, Paris). Below: LâAumĂŽne dâun mendiant Ă Ornans, 1868, (Burrell Collection, Glasgow)
As an artist Courbet faced the social and moral conservatism of the Second Empire: his realist paintings were criticised as vulgar and dirty and his nudes contrasted with classical models (in 1866, he painted the provocative LâOrigine du Monde, focusing on a womanâs genitalia). His political stance, close to the anarchist philosopher Proudhon and to the Socialists, also played a part in the controversy surrounding him. The revolutionary upheaval of 1870 and the fall of Napoleon III led to the Paris Commune, until the French defeat against the Prussians in 1871.
Caricature by Cham from Le Charivari, 7 April 1851, reproduced in Courbet selon les caricatures et les imagesâŠ
At the time, Courbet stood as a political candidate and became a Delegate of Fine Arts for the Commune. He ensured the opening of the Louvre and Luxembourg museums and campaigned for the abolition of prestigious but conservative artistic institutions and national prizes. A particular controversy, widely derided in the satirical press, surrounded the destruction of the Napoleonic VendĂŽme Column, which Courbet had wished to be relocated because of its imperialistic connotations: he was later held responsible and heavily fined for its demolition. LĂ©once SchĂ©rerâs caricature amalgamates the image of Courbet as a dĂ©boulonneur (debunker) with a reference to his controversial Les Casseurs de pierres (The Stone-breakers) destroyed during the Second World War
Above: LĂ©once SchĂ©rer, Souvenirs de la Commune (4 August 1871) reproduced in Courbet selon les caricatures et les imagesâŠ Below: Gustave Courbet, Les Casseurs de pierres, 1849 (Image from The Yorck Project via Wikimedia Commons)
Courbet was used as a subject by many caricaturists of the time who published in periodicals such as LâIllustration, Journal pour rire, Journal amusant, Charivari, Tintamarre, La Lune, LâEclipse... Courbetâs caricatures made him an image of excess, in eating, drinking and smoking, depicting him as a hairy, unkempt, loud and talkative dandified peasant in clogs (originally from the Jura region/Franche-ComtĂ©, he suffered from dropsy). LĂ©once Petit shows Courbet with a bovine face, painting surrounded by farm animals.
LĂ©once Petit, âCourbetâ from EugĂšne Vermersch, Les Binettes rimĂ©es, Paris, 1868, as reproduced on the cover of Courbet face aÌ la caricature : le chahut par l'image, ed. Thomas Schlesser, Bertrand Tillier (Paris, 2007). YF.2009.a.9419
The caricatures of Courbet crystallise the contemporary reception of the artist and his work, highlighting his modernism and deepening our understanding of his contemporaries, fellow artists and French (Parisian) society in the second half of the 19th century. They make fun of the subject matter chosen by the artist and of his realist style, presented as leading to ugliness (âPourquoi veut-il forcer la nature de son talent, et se faire le chef de lâĂ©cole du laid?â, Charles Diguet, Dartagnan, 11 June 1868), profanity, infantilism or caricature (âEtrange artiste que M. Courbet! Il se complaĂźt sept fois sur dix Ă parodier son talentâ, B. de Renjarde). It is artificiality rather than naturalism in the painterâs work which is derided in Nadarâs caricature of Courbetâs Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (Young ladies on the banks of the Seine) represented as two manikins knocked on the ground.
Above: Gustave Courbet, Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (Ă©tĂ©), 1857 (Petit Palais, Paris). Below: Caricature of Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine from Nadar, Jury au Salon de 1857. 1000 comptes rendus. 150 dessins (Paris, ) 1256.kk.12.(2.)
IrĂšne Fabry-Tehranchi (Curator, Romance collections)
Courbet: a dream of modern art, ed. Klaus Herding and Max Hollein (Ostfildern, 2010) LD.31.b.3260
Courbet: artiste et promoteur de son Ćuvre, dir. JĂ¶rg Zutter (Paris, 1998). LF.31.b.3003
Courbet et la commune: Paris, musĂ©e d'Orsay, 13 mars-11 juin 2000 (Paris, 2000). YA.2000.a.15311
Courbet und Deutschland: Hamburger Kunsthalle, 19. Oktober - 17. Dezember 1978 (Cologne, 1978) X:410/7164
Gustave Courbet (New York, 2008). LF.31.b.4666
Gustave Courbet, ed. Ulf KĂŒster (Ostfildern, 2014) LF.31.b.11038
Gustave Courbet: les annĂ©es suisses, dir. Laurence Madeline (Paris, 2014) LF.31.b.12398
Gustave Courbet et la Belgique: rĂ©alisme de lâart vivant Ă l'art libre, ed. Brigitte de Patoul (Brussels, 2013) YF.2015.a.20099
Klaus Herding, Courbet: to venture independence, transl. John William Gabriel (New Haven, 1991) YC.1992.b.1465
Julia Langbein & Tobias Czudej, Sturtevant & The Salon Pour Rire: Bertall / Cham / Daumier / Gill / Nadar / Oulevay / Sturtevant, 31 March â 6 May, 2017, 139 Lambeth Walk, London http://www.chewdays.com/sturtevant---the-salon-pour-rire.html
HĂ©lĂšne Toussaint, Gustave Courbet, 1819-1877: the Royal Academy of Arts, 19 January-19 March 1978, transl. P. S. Falla (London, 1978). X.410/10217