Courbet, Burial at Ornans, 1849
Courbet exhibited the painting along with two others, The Stonebreakers and Peasants of Flagey Returning
from the Fair, in the Salon of 1850. The three paintings were immediately seen as political statements
glorifying the peasant workers in their struggle against middle- and upper-class townspeople. Courbet
definitely intended the pieces to be political statements; he wrote several statements supporting workers,
and he fashioned himself as a bohemian. He dressed in workmen’s clothes and wore a thick beard, and he
was fiercely opposed to government sponsorship of the arts because it compromised his artistic
independence. By 1855 he was showing his works in his own exhibition space, freeing himself from the
Salon system and setting a precedent for later artists like the Impressionists. Courbet was at least as
influential in establishing the persona of the modern artist as his paintings were in establishing the genre
of realism.
Édouard Manet’s paintings defy categorization. Manet was once thought of as an Impressionist, although
he never exhibited with the Impressionists and he didn’t fully agree with their ideas. Now he is usually
categorized with the realists, but his works do not have the clear political content seen in the work of
Daumier and Courbet. Manet learned a great deal from artists of the past; among his early works are copies
of Italian Renaissance masters and paintings of the Spanish artists Velázquez and Goya. In his mature works,
Manet continued to use figures from old masterpieces, but he put them in contemporary settings.
An example of this approach is his painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass). The
foreground group—two well-dressed men in the company of a completely nude woman—is derived from
a Renaissance print made from a design by Raphael. In the print, three male gods are gathered together,
all unabashedly nude. Although Manet’s painting can be interpreted in many ways, he surely is saying
something about the meaning of nudity itself: in Renaissance or baroque art, it seems perfectly acceptable
for women to be shown nude, but we immediately see the woman as sexually provocative when she is
shown nude in a contemporary setting. This painting also displays characteristics of Manet’s style. He
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