Gustave Courbet, A Burial at Ornans 1849-50
Oil on Canvas, 124 x 263 in.
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Another painting of a lifetime! Double-click on A Burial at Ornans!
In real life it measures 10 feet, 4 in tall and 21 feet wide! This would mean the figures are lifesized!
I'll stop here and wait for you to look.
The dawn of realism in 19th century is before your eyes!
Courbet strayed from the beaten path of conventional historical painting (which was all painted from past tense, events that had long since happened) by painting from his lifetime and personal experiences. This scene is said to have been from his uncle's funeral. Some say he arranged the townspeople outside and others say he brought them to his studio sometime after the funeral to paint the scene. (Below is a study for the work. I'm sorry I couldn't get a larger image)
In the mid 1800s, art was seen as something to copy first. (An artist's own creativity was secondary. ) Students were even denied a spectrum of colors until they had mastered another's work.
Here Courbet used somber colors, and handled his paints with a palette knife. He also gave equal treatment to all his characters. These techniques were frowned upon. A self-proclaimed 'realist,' Courbet made his own way, radically, through major repercussions with the contemporary establishment. When jurors banned his fourteen works from the Universal Exhibition in 1855, the painter held his own exhibition. Amazing! (I would note that although some of Courbet's paintings are edifying, others, I have found, are less so.)
Let's only look at this magnificent story on canvas for now. A funeral in France, 1849.
Each face tells a story. All the elements of a small society, right here. I look all around the space and simply find what looks like truth. (You can see why Courbet's critics did not like his handling of the subjects. everyone's flaws left to see. Like a scene after a fire. No pretense. Not even in the peacocks! (See below)) The paul-bearers, eyes covered, knowingly, acknowledging their dark task. The blonde alter boy looks up for guidance. Most seem genuinely sad. The red peacocks at center left seem mocked, I think, by Courbet. Their bulbous noses, ridiculous headdresses, and flushed faces... juxtapose the grave-digger's face, handsome and purposeful. I do wonder what the man in blue socks is doing.
The colors used here are beautiful and calming. This, to be sure, is the one element perhaps not totally realistic. In a real sky there is cool light somewhere. Hints of blue somewhere. If we were to experience an afternoon with a sky this color, light cast in all amber tones and no direct sun, we would think the world was coming to an end! (or for me, that I'd finally gotten my dream after all and found myself inside a painting!)
This piece is one of the first of its kind. Realism is born. I love it!
(Study for A Burial at Ornans, 1849 )