Musée d'Orsay: Courbet speaks

Courbet speaks

Etienne Carjat Portrait of the painter Gustave Courbet© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / DR
Letter from Gustave Courbet to his parents, June 1848:
"It is the most wretched spectacle you can imagine. I won't fight for two reasons: firstly because I have no faith in waging war with gun and cannon [...] I have been waging the war of intelligence for two years now [...] Secondly, I have no weapons and I won't be persuaded."

Reply from Gustave Courbet to Monsieur Garcin who referred to him as a Socialist painter:
"I am happy to accept this name. I am not only a Socialist but a Republican even more, and in short a partisan of all revolution - and above all a Realist...Realist also means sincere to the real truth."

Gustave CourbetChampfleury© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In his letters Gustave Courbet refers to The Studio, which he was in the process of painting.
Letter from Courbet to Champfleury, autumn 1854:
"My dear friend,
In spite of being assailed by hypochondria, I have launched into an enormous painting 20 feet by 12, perhaps even bigger than The Burial, which will show that I am still alive, and so is Realism, as Realism exists [...] It is society at its best, its worst, its average. In short, it's my way of seeing society with all its interests and passions. It's the whole world coming to me to be painted [...]".

Letter from Courbet to Bruyas, December 1854:
"When I got back to Ornans, I spent a few days hunting. I quite like the subject of violent exercise [...] It makes the most surprising painting you can imagine. There are thirty life-size figures in it. It is the moral and physical history of my studio".

Letter from Gustave Courbet to his parents, 30th April 1870:
"Here I am, because of the People of Paris, up to my neck in politics. President of the Federation of Artists, member of the Commune committee, city council delegate and delegate for Public Education: the four most important posts in Paris. I get up, I have breakfast, and I preside and sit on committees twelve hours a day. Now my head is starting to spin. But in spite of all this worry and trying to understand unfamiliar things, I am really happy [...]"

Félix NadarCourbet© Musée d'Orsay
Exhibition and sale of forty paintings and four drawings by Gustave Courbet
, Paris 1855
The preface to this brochure for his personal exhibition at the Pavilion of Realism outside the 1855 Universal Exhibition (sold for 10 centimes) was entitled "Realism". This text is often considered to be the Realist manifesto:
""The title of Realist was thrust upon me just as the title of Romantic was imposed upon the men of 1830. Titles have never given a true idea of things: if it were otherwise, the works would be unnecessary.
Without expanding on the greater or lesser accuracy of a name which nobody, I should hope, can really be expected to understand, I will limit myself to a few words of elucidation in order to cut short the misunderstandings.
I have studied the art of the ancients and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I no longer wanted to imitate the one than to copy the other; nor, furthermore, was it my intention to attain the trivial goal of "art for art's sake". No! I simply wanted to draw forth, from a complete acquaintance with tradition, the reasoned and independent consciousness of my own individuality.
To know in order to do, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art - this is my goal."

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