The studio of the painter, a real allegory | Gustave Courbet | 1855
Courbet was obsessed by freedom. He would define himself as an independent spirit and that’s why it isn’t shocking that he would reject formal education in art. Instead, he began painting his sisters and other members of his family.
In that time in France, historic painting was acknowledged as the highest form of art and thus, was the favorite of the Salon de Paris. But the reactionary Courbet was little interested in this type of art, but he thought that the artist should work from his own experience. And that’s why he decides to paint everyday scenes, with common and even vulgar characters; like his contemporaries Daumier or Millet, who were catalogued under a new movement: realism.
But this movement, as Courbet said, wasn’t meant to only paint neatly the lines and shapes the artist saw, but is suggests the spontaneous and direct observation of reality and to be able to portrait the irregularities of nature and the harshness of human existence.
The studio of the painter, a real allegory, is a composition clearly divided in two halves. In the centre, we see Courbet painting a landscapes and, on his sides, a naked woman and a child. To the right of the work, we see fans and friends of the artist, people of upper class, including the poet Charles Baudelaire (focused in a book at the far right of the canvas). In comparison to, to the left we see characters of “the other work, of the trivial life, of misery and poverty…” as Courbet himself said in a letter, represented by a prostitute, a priest, merchants, etc.
Courbet himself inhabited two worlds at the same time: while he had relation with the lower-class people to paint his works, those who admired and paid for them were the other, the upper-class people. But, didn’t this occur with the entire realists of that time? Evidently, yes. But was Courbet who put it into the canvas as an autobiography.
But there still one thing I don’t get from the painting: there are versions that say that the characters of the left are waiting to be called by Courbet in order to pose for him behind canvas and, that way, to be portrayed by the artist. However, in The studio of the painter, a real allegory, Courbet himself is painting a landscape that has absolutely nothing to do with the characters waiting, so I think this interpretation is kind of stupid. But anyway, I can’t think that the artist wants to tell us, or even, is he wants to tell us something with this. So, if anyone has a good idea, you can share it with us!