COURBET, Gustave
(b. 1819, Ornans, d. 1877, La Tour-de-Peilz)

The Studio of the Painter

1855
Oil on canvas, 359 x 598 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The subtitle of the huge painting is Real Allegory of Seven Years of My Artistic and Moral Life. Courbet did not like to talk about his art, but made an exception for this work: "It is the moral and physical story of my studio. ... it is the world that comes to be painted. .. .The painting is divided into two parts. I am in the middle, painting. On the right are... friends... On the left, the other world of trivial life..."

In 1854, Courbet began work on The Studio which he would like to submit for the Exposition universelle. Courbet described the painting in a letter: "I see society with its concerns and passions; it is the world that comes to be painted.... The scene takes place in my atelier in Paris. The painting is divided into two parts. I am in the middle, painting. On the right are the shareholders, that is, friends, workers, devotees of the art world. On the left, the other world of trivial life, the people, misery, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, the people who live off death."

The Studio presents a completely original synthesis and a thoroughly unexpected confrontation. There is no parallel in Courbet's later career for this generous, indeed baroque, vision, in which models and minds come together. Courbet sought to present the studio as an overall image of the role of art. He declared the autonomy and subjectivity of his perception in the face of history and the real world, both of which he had in his own way summoned into the studio. The master of ceremonies is seen painting a landscape, a practice that was to become increasingly central during the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the notion of a group portrait as homage or allegory in the spirit of Frans Hals, Rembrandt or Philippe de Champaigne, is perfectly achieved.

The painting was a success at the Exposition, however, it did not find a buyer, remaining rolled up in a corner of the rue Hautefeuille studio till 1881, when Courbet's sister Juliette, his sole heir, decided to sell it. By then it had become something of a burden. It raised 21,000 francs (some 3,200 euros). Only in 1920 was it acquired by the Louvre, finding its way to the Musée d'Orsay some sixty years later.