Gustave Courbet

Parkstone International
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Ornans, Courbet’s birthplace, is near the beautiful valley of the Doubs River, and it was here as a boy, and later as a man, that he absorbed the love of landscape. He was by nature a revolutionary, a man born to oppose existing order and to assert his independence; he had that quality of bluster and brutality which makes the revolutionary count in art as well as in politics. In both directions his spirit of revolt manifested itself. He went to Paris to study art, yet he did not attach himself to the studio of any of the prominent masters. Already in his country home he had had a little instruction in painting, and preferred to study the masterpieces of the Louvre. At first his pictures were not sufficiently distinctive to arouse any opposition, and were admitted to the Salon. Then followed the Funeral at Ornans, which the critics violently assailed: “A masquerade funeral, six metres long, in which there is more to laugh at than to weep over.” Indeed, the real offence of Courbet’s pictures was that they represented live flesh and blood. They depicted men and women as they really are and realistically doing the business in which they are engaged. His figures were not men and women deprived of personality and idealised into a type, posed in positions that will decorate the canvas. He advocated painting things as they are, and proclaimed that la vérité vraie must be the aim of the artist. So at the Universal Exposition of 1855 he withdrew his pictures from the exhibition grounds and set them in a wooden booth, just outside the entrance. Over the booth he posted a sign with large lettering. It read, simply: “Courbet – Realist.” Like every revolutionary, he was an extremist. He ignored the fact that to every artist the truth of nature appears under a different guise according to his way of seeing and experiencing. Instead, he adhered to the notion that art is only a copying of nature and not a matter also of selection and arrangement. In his contempt for prettiness Courbet often chose subjects which may fairly be called ugly. But that he also had a sense of beauty may be seen in his landscapes. That sense, mingled with his capacity for deep emotion, appears in his marines – these last being his most impressive work. Moreover, in all his works, whether attractive or not to the observer, he proved himself a powerful painter, painting in a broad, free manner, with a fine feeling for colour, and with a firmness of pigment that made all his representations very real and stirring.
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Publisher
Parkstone International
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Published on
Sep 15, 2015
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Pages
305
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ISBN
9781783107650
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / European
Art / General
Art / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945)
Art / Individual Artists / Monographs
Art / Subjects & Themes / Human Figure
Art / Techniques / Painting
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Egon Schiele’s work is so distinctive that it resists categorisation. Admitted to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at just sixteen, he was an extraordinarily precocious artist, whose consummate skill in the manipulation of line, above all, lent a taut expressivity to all his work. Profoundly convinced of his own significance as an artist, Schiele achieved more in his abruptly curtailed youth than many other artists achieved in a full lifetime. His roots were in the Jugendstil of the Viennese Secession movement. Like a whole generation, he came under the overwhelming influence of Vienna’s most charismatic and celebrated artist, Gustav Klimt. In turn, Klimt recognised Schiele’s outstanding talent and supported the young artist, who within just a couple of years, was already breaking away from his mentor’s decorative sensuality. Beginning with an intense period of creativity around 1910, Schiele embarked on an unflinching exposé of the human form – not the least his own – so penetrating that it is clear he was examining an anatomy more psychological, spiritual and emotional than physical. He painted many townscapes, landscapes, formal portraits and allegorical subjects, but it was his extremely candid works on paper, which are sometimes overtly erotic, together with his penchant for using under-age models that made Schiele vulnerable to censorious morality. In 1912, he was imprisoned on suspicion of a series of offences including kidnapping, rape and public immorality. The most serious charges (all but that of public immorality) were dropped, but Schiele spent around three despairing weeks in prison. Expressionist circles in Germany gave a lukewarm reception to Schiele’s work. His compatriot, Kokoschka, fared much better there. While he admired the Munich artists of Der Blaue Reiter, for example, they rebuffed him. Later, during the First World War, his work became better known and in 1916 he was featured in an issue of the left-wing, Berlin-based Expressionist magazine Die Aktion. Schiele was an acquired taste. From an early stage he was regarded as a genius. This won him the support of a small group of long-suffering collectors and admirers but, nonetheless, for several years of his life his finances were precarious. He was often in debt and sometimes he was forced to use cheap materials, painting on brown wrapping paper or cardboard instead of artists’ paper or canvas. It was only in 1918 that he enjoyed his first substantial public success in Vienna. Tragically, a short time later, he and his wife Edith were struck down by the massive influenza epidemic of 1918 that had just killed Klimt and millions of other victims, and they died within days of one another. Schiele was just twenty-eight years old.
“I am not interested in myself as a subject for painting, but in others, particularly women...”Beautiful, sensuous and above all erotic, Gustav Klimt’s paintings speak of a world of opulence and leisure, which seems aeons away from the harsh, post-modern environment we live in now. The subjects he treats – allegories, portraits, landscapes and erotic figures – contain virtually no reference to external events, but strive rather to create a world where beauty, above everything else, is dominant. His use of colour and pattern was profoundly influenced by the art of Japan, ancient Egypt, and Byzantium. Ravenne, the flat, two-dimensional perspective of his paintings, and the frequently stylised quality of his images form an oeuvre imbued with a profound sensuality and one where the figure of woman, above all, reigns supreme. Klimt’s very first works brought him success at an unusually young age. Gustav, born in 1862, obtained a state grant to study at Kunstgewerbeschule (the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts) at the age of fourteen. His talents as a draughtsman and painter were quickly noticed, and in 1879 he formed the Künstlercompagnie (Artists’ Company) with his brother Ernst and another student, Franz Matsch. The latter part of the nineteenth century was a period of great architectural activity in Vienna. In 1857, the Emperor Franz Joseph had ordered the destruction of the fortifications that had surrounded the medieval city centre. The Ringstrasse was the result, a budding new district with magnificent buildings and beautiful parks, all paid for by public expenses. Therefore the young Klimt and his partners had ample opportunities to show off their talents, and they received early commissions to contribute to the decorations for the pageant organised to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of the Emperor Franz Joseph and the Empress Elisabeth. In 1894, Matsch moved out of their communal studio, and in 1897 Klimt, together with his closest friends, resigned from the Künstlerhausgenossenschaft (the Cooperative Society of Austrian Artists) to form a new movement known as the Secession, of which he was immediately elected president. The Secession was a great success, holding both a first and second exhibition in 1898. The movement made enough money to commission its very own building, designed for it by the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich. Above the entrance was its motto: “To each age its art, to art its freedom.” From around 1897 onward, Klimt spent almost every summer on the Attersee with the Flöge family. These were periods of peace and tranquillity in which he produced the landscape paintings constituting almost a quarter of his entire oeuvre. Klimt made sketches for virtually everything he did. Sometimes there were over a hundred drawings for one painting, each showing a different detail – a piece of clothing or jewellery, or a simple gesture. Just how exceptional Gustav Klimt was is perhaps reflected in the fact that he had no predecessors and no real followers. He admired Rodin and Whistler without slavishly copying them, and was admired in turn by the younger Viennese painters Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, both of whom were greatly influenced by Klimt.
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