Having initially espoused Romanticism, evident in his self-portraits as the conquering hero or the victim of life, Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) brought new life to his elders' search for truth. His training in the Paris of Louis-Philippe was brought to maturity when he met Baudelaire, and came up against the events of 1848. Bringing painting and politics together in his own style, Courbet's painting quickly became as sincere as it was critical. The Studio, exhibited in 1855, summing up his own creative revolution, places the painter at the centre of the canvas and of society. Far from being a flat imitation of reality, a criticism levelled at him by his enemies from 1849 onwards, its realism was a vivid, personal interpretation.
Proud of his native Franche Comté, Courbet began by reforming the image of the peasants. A Burial at Ornans, a Republican allegory, presents a full-length image of the population of his home town. The rough country folk are dressed in black, and challenge the capital with their full height. The large format has been appropriated for obscure characters. Having endowed them with a new dignity, the painter tackled other genres. His landscapes burst with life, his animal subjects were filled with energy, sometimes veiled with melancholy. This Courbet was quickly accepted, unlike the Courbet of the nudes. His bodies were real bodies, breaking away from ideal proportions and perfect curves. His register was wide-ranging, from the libertine image to the utter crudity of the Origin of the World (on display room 20), a front view of female genitals, and a symbol of an unfettered vision.