In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gustave Courbet

  • Introduction
  • Catalogues Raisonnés
  • Anthologies
  • Miscellaneous Studies
  • Journals
  • Individual Works
  • Genres and Groups of Works
  • Exhibiting, Marketing, Selling, Patronage, and Collecting

Art History Gustave Courbet
Petra Chu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0071


Gustave Courbet (b. 1819–d. 1877) occupies an important place in 19th-century art history. Citing the necessity for artists to visually chronicle their own time rather than, as Neoclassical and Romantic artists had done, imagine and recreate a past they had never seen and experienced, he launched a movement called “Realism.” Realism not only called for contemporary subject matter but also for an art that seriously engaged with the issues of the time and served a social function. Courbet’s position in the history of art is generally seen as that of an artist on the cusp of modernism. Although his engagement with social modernity places him firmly in the modernist camp, he did not (like artists of the next generation, most importantly Edouard Manet) attempt to find a new formal language better suited to the representation of modernity than that of the Old Masters. Only in his landscapes did he develop a style and technique that anticipates Impressionism and, at times even, Expressionism. The Courbet literature is vast. Where much of the early literature on the artist was produced in France, a strong interest in Courbet developed in the United States in the years after the Second World War. Between c. 1970 and 2010, American scholars produced a number of important publications on Courbet that brought many new ideas to bear on the artist’s work. The large retrospective exhibition mounted in Paris in 2007 (Retrospective Exhibitions), at the occasion of the 130th anniversary of his death, revived the interest in Courbet in his home country and has led to a spate of publications, many meant for the general public, in France in the early 21st century.

General Overviews

In the case of a single artist, general overviews usually take the form either of biographies or of monographs. The former focus on the artist’s life, the latter on his/her work. It is not always easy to separate the two genres, as all biographies need to take account of their subjects’ artistic production, while even the monographs most focused on an artist’s work need to place them in the context of the artist’s life. Nonetheless, in view of the vast amount of general books about Courbet, the subdivision seems useful.

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