(b. 1819, Ornans, d. 1877, La Tour-de-Peilz)
Oil on canvas, 165 x 257 cm
Like Romanticism, Realism was a broad cultural movement in the 19th century that had its origin in literature and philosophy. In painting, its most prominent representative was Gustave Courbet. His Stonebreakers represented workers, as he had seen them, in monumental form.
The Stonebreakers, destroyed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945, was the first of Courbet's great works. The Socialist philosopher Proudhon described it as an icon of the peasant world. But for Courbet it was simply a memory of something he had seen: two men breaking stones beside the road. He told his friends the art critic Francis Wey and Champfleury: "It is not often that one encounters so complete an expression of poverty and so, right then and there I got the idea for a painting. I told them to come to my studio the next morning."