Sunday, October 18, 2009

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!
Do you??

(Study for A Burial at Ornans, 1849 )


kc said...

I do like it. One thing I noticed is that in the midst of all that sadness and mourning, the crucified Christ is a prominent figure. Before I clicked on the image to enlarge it, I thought the cross was actually situated on the hill in the background. When I enlarged it, I noticed that it was a crucifix and that the man holding it was one of the only figures looking at us. I can't quite put my finger on it, but he has a strange look on his face.

I think the painting is an interesting representation of Jesus in the midst of suffering. He's there as a prominent figure for us as outside spectators to see, but those in the painting don't seem to notice that He is in their midst (maybe because he is situated so far above them)...still He is there. I wonder if the painter intended to portray this as a statement of fact (that Jesus presides over our suffering), or as an honest question (where is Jesus in the midst of our suffering?)?. Either way, it’s a fascinating piece of work.

Once again Mia, thanks for the diversion :).

Shiloh Guy said...

If this painting really depicts the painter's uncle's burial, then perhaps the painter is one of the pall-bearers. The altar boy is looking up at one of the pall-bearers as if he is his father. I wonder if it is the painter and his son!

The man in the blue socks seems to be making the symbolic gesture toward the open grave that means "from earth we come and to earth we will return." Except, if this is the birth of realism then we shouldn't look for too much symbolism.

But I like Karrie's observation regarding the crucifix. The bearer surely is the only one looking at us. He has a message. What is that message? Jesus died for this!

Did you notice the difference between the way the French carry a coffin and the way the English carry one? The English carry it high on their shoulders while the French use lengths of cloth to suspend the coffin between them.

Finally, I wonder why he separates the men and the women. Do you think that was the custom?

Anne of The House said...

Hey kc!
Thanks for your observations! I love your thoughts on the cross and Jesus in the midst of their suffering!
It's so true and symbolic of how we, as believers, miss the God who is in control of all that we suffer with.And sometimes we do, as well, wonder where He is.

Thanks so much!

Anne of The House said...

My Darling Shiloh Guy,

Good point about the uncle.

This artist claims realism but I still think he is greatly influenced by the classical stuff. It seems so symbolic... maybe he is painting with a classical accent!

But, really...the guy in the socks....he's the only one who seems absolutely taskless. Unless he's waiting to be paid. Maybe he's the mortuary guy! Or maybe he crashed the funeral because he knows they'll have lunch!

Thanks for your comments!
And yes, I did notice the guys carrying the casket. So interesting that this was just 1849! So much has changed in a short time!

Love you Shiloh Guy!

Anne of The House said...

What did you guys think of the study??