Gustave Courbet - The artist's studio

by Frauke Maria Petry


The oil painting "Artist's Studio" was painted by Gustave Courbet in allegedly only six weeks. You can see several people in an interior room. In the center of the picture, a man sits holding a landscape on a large canvas. Behind him is a nude woman holding a white sheet in front of her chest. Next to the artist stands a boy watching him. A cat is playing on the ground. The group of people moves by position, color distribution and light-dark contrast in the center of the picture events. In the right corner of the picture some people stand and look attentively at the central picture group. A man is looking at a book; a couple is flirting with each other. On the left edge of the picture is another group of people, most of whom are sitting. The people seem to be introverted and pay little attention to the painter. A dog joins the group; instruments lie on the ground. A male nude can be seen in the background. As the full title of the work "L'Atelier du peintre. Allégorie réelle déterminant une phase de sept années de ma vie artistique et morale" reveals that the scene is Courbet's studio as his artistic creation. Courbet calls the painting an " allegory ". In the painting, the artist captures personalities that accompanied him in seven years of his artistic life.

Among the group of people to the right are Courbet's friends, collaborators and art lovers - including the bearded profile of the patron Alfred Bruyas or the philosopher Proudhon. On the stool sits the art critic Champfleury and Baudelaire studies the book. While the nobly dressed couple symbolizes art lovers in general, the lovers represent free love. To the left of the central pictorial event, the contrast is pictured - everyday life contrasts with the art world. Misery, poverty, wealth and exploitation are depicted by a clergyman, a merchant, a hunter (who has similarities with Napoleon III), a worker and a beggar woman. The naked man in semi-darkness is a manikin. It was used to study postures and proportions. The figure is not accidentally banished from the painter's field of vision. For Courbet, it represented the unrealistic tradition of the art academies. He denounces the classical education. This statement is supported by the female nude in the center of the picture. It is claimed by contemporaries that this is an allegory for the Muse of Truth. The artist depicted is, of course, none other than Courbet himself, although it remains unclear who the people in his immediate vicinity are. For the artist did not have family.


The entire oil painting is a manifesto painting. Courbet himself takes the position of a mediator between the everyday world and the art world. This illustrates the social function of an artist. Through the size, Courbet gives his painting the rank and format of a history painting. He himself said, "The world comes to my studio to be painted" On the one hand, this makes the figures life-size; on the other hand, the painting was rejected for the 1855 World's Fair because of this. As a result, Courbet withdraws his entire work from the event and organizes its own exhibition in the immediate vicinity in the "Pavilion of Realism " parallel.


Gustave Courbet - The artist's studio

Oil on canvas, ca. 1854 / 1855, 361 x 598 cm, Musée d'Orsay in Paris