GUSTAVE COURBET: 1819-1877
The Realist Manifesto Gustave Courbet, leader and artistic embodiment othe Realist movement, had attracted scandal and controverssince exhibitinhis ianticBurial at Ornansand Stone-Breakersaintat the Salon o1850-1851. Courbet's determination to unelevated, amiliarsub ectsre erablthose romaround his native villa e o Ornans in the Franche-Comtein a broad straiht orward manner, on therand scale hitherto reservedor historical or reli iousaintin , was immediatele uated with social anarchand oliticalrevolution bublic and critics durinthe eriodo conservative reactionollowin thedown all othe 1848 RevolutionarGovernment.When Courbet's ma or works, theBurial at Ornansaintedand the newlArtist's Studiouriatedected bthe urwere reosition o1855, an ino theUniversal Ex Courbet withdrew the elevenictures that thehad acce ted and had his own exhibition buildinconstructed on the Avenue Montai ne, where, with customar bravado, he held a one-man show in com etition with the oicial international exhibition.The so-called "Realist Mani esto," reminiscent othe oliticalmani estoes othis storm eriodboth in its aressive tone and in its concise settin- orth oa roram, was actuallthe introduction to the Cataloue oCourbet's rivateexhibition. Accordin tosome authorities, Courbet's ideas wereut into coherentorm bthe realist writer and critic Cham -leur see. 36 to 45, Courbet's staunchest supporter and initiator of the "bataille realiste."The title of Realist was thrust uon meust as the title of Romantic was imosed u on the men of 1830. Titles have neveriven a true idea of thin s: if it were otherwise, the works would be unnecessar. Without exandin onthe reateror lesser accuracof a name which nobod, I should hoe, can reallbe exected to understand, I will limit m self to a few words of elucidation in order to cut short the misunderstandins. I have studiedoutside of ans stem and withoutre udicethe art of the ancients and the art of the moderns. I no more wanted to imitate the one than to co theother; nor, furthermore, was it mintention to attain the trivialoal ofart or art's sake.No! I siml wantedto draw forth from a comlete acuaintance with tradition the reasoned and indeendent consciousness of mown individualit. To know in order to be able to create, that was midea. To be in aosition to translate the customsthe ideasthe aearance of me ochaccordin tom own estimation; to be not onla ainter,but a man as well; in short, to create livin artthis is my goal. Art Cannot Be TaughtWhen, in 1861, Courbet received aetition roma rou odissatis ied Ecole des Beaux-Arts students reuestin himto oen a studio and teach them the theorand ractice oRealism, the artist, who had alwas re ected academic traininhimsel , was at irstreluctant. But he then decided to oen an unorthodox, democratic atelier, where an atmoshere omutual aid and eualit wouldrei namon thestudents and their teacher and where the models were to include not onlthe usual nudes, but an ox, a horse, and a deerresumabl stued aswell.Courbet exlained hisosition in an oen letter to his students, dated December 25, 1861, which appeared in theCourrier du dimanche.His ideas about the
im ossibilito teachinart, his insistence on each individual'sersonal assimilation o traditionand uni ue inter retation ohis own e och, and u on the essentiall concrete nature oaintin itselmake this letter Courbet's most imortant andar-reachin contributionto art theor ; the artist wasrobabl assistedin uttin his thou htsinto words bhis riendand suorter, the critic Castanar see. 47 to 49 , who was also in chare orunnin thestudio and who later rerinted the letter under the title "Courbet: His Studio; His Theories" inLes Libres Propos,1864.PARIS,DECEMBER25, 1861GENTLEMEN AND COLLEAGUES: You were anxious to open a studio of painting where you would be able to continue oureducation as artists without restraint, andou were eaer to suest that it belaced under mdirection. Before makinan rel ,I have toet thins straiht withou about that word direction.I can't lauestion of teacher and studentsm selfo ento makinit a between us. I must exlain toou what I recentlhad the occasion to tell the conress at Antwer :I do not have, I cannot have,u ils. I, who believe that everartist should be his own teacher, cannot dream of settin mself uas arofessor. I cannot teach mart northe art of anschool whateversince I denthat art can be tauht, or, in other words, I maintain that art is comletel individual,and is, for each artist, nothinbut the talent issuinfrom his own insiration and his own studies of tradition.I sain addition thatin mo inion foran artist art or talent can onlbe a waof al inhis ownersonal abilities to the ideas and ob ects of the time in which he lives. Above all, the art ofaintin canonl consistof the re resentation of obects which are visible and tanible for the artist. An eoch can onlbe reroduced bits own artistsI mean bthe artists who lived in it. I hold the artists of one centurbasicall incaable of reroducin theas ectof aast or future centurin other words, of paintinthe past or the future. It is in this sense that I denthe ossibilit ofhistorical art alied to theast. Historical art is bnature contemorar .Each eoch must have its artists who exress it and reroduce it for the future. An ae which has not been caable of exressin itself throuh its own artists has no riht to be reresented bsubse uentartists. This would be a falsification of histor. The historof an era is finished with that era itself and with those of its re resentativeswho have exressed it. It is not the task of modern times to add anthin to the exression of former timesto ennoble or embellish theast. What has beenhas been. The human sirit must alwas bein work afresh in theresent, startinoff from ac uiredresults. One must never start out from foreone conclusions,roceedin from s nthesisto snthesis, from conclusion to conclusion. The real artists are those whoick utheir ae exactlat theoint to which it has been carried brecedin times.To obackward is to do nothinit isure lossit means that one has neither understood norrofited bthe lessons of theast. This ex lains whthe archaic schools of all kinds are brou ht down to the most barren com ilations. I maintain, in addition, thataintin isan essentiallconcreteart and can onl consist of the re resentation ofreal and existinh sicalthin s. It is a com letel lan ua e thewords of which consist of all visible ob ectsan ob ect which isabstract,not visible, non-existent, is not within the realm ofaintin . Ima inationin art consists in knowinhow to find the most comlete exression of an existing thing, but never in inventing or creating that thing itself.
The beautiful exists in nature and mabe encountered in the midst of realitunder the most diverse asects. As soon as it is found there, it belons to art, or rather, to the artist who knows how to see it there. As soon as beautis real and visible, it has its artistic ex ression from these verualities. Artifice has no ri ht to am lifthis ex ression;b meddlin withit, one onlruns the risk ofervertin and,conse uentl , of weakeninit. The beautrovided bnature is suerior to all the conventions of the artist. Beaut ,like truth, is a thinwhich is relative to the time in which one lives and to the individual ca able of understandinit. The ex ression of the beautiful bears a recise relation to theower oferce tionac uiredb theartist. Here are mbasic ideas about art. With such ideas, to think of theossibilit of o enina school for the teachinof conventionalrinci leswould beoin backto the incom lete, received notions which have ever where directed modern art uto this point. . . .
It is notossible to have schools foraintin ;there are onlainters. Schools have no use excet for discerninthe analtic roceduresof art. No school is caable ofressin on to a snthesis in isolation. Paintincannot,artialwithout fallininto abstraction, let a as ectof art dominate, whether it be drawin, color, comosition, or another one of the extraordinar multiplicit ofmeans the totalitof which alone constitutes this art. I amtherefore unableto o en a schoolto formu ilsto teach this or that artial tradition of art. I can onlex lain to some artists, who would be mcollaborators and not m u ils,the method bwhich, in mo inion,one becomes aainter, bwhich I mself have tried to become one since mearliest da s, leavinto eacherson the comlete control of his individualit, the full libertof his own exression in the alication of this method. To achieve this aim, the or anization of a communal studio, recallinthose extremel fruitfulcollaborations of the studios of the Renaissance, could certainlbe useful and contribute to the oenin ofthe era of modernaintin ,and I would eaerl give myself to everything you want of me in order to attain thisoal. With deepest sincerity,