Listening to Art

04.06: Gustave Courbet, Portrait of Adolphe Marlet

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume four, number six: Portrait of Adolphe Marlet by Gustave Courbet.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Many artists are political. In volume one number six, for example, Barnett Newman was quoted saying that “if my work were properly understood it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism.” However, it is rare for artists to appear in histories of political movements. Courbet is one who does. He was close friends with the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and his involvement in the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 led to jail time and ultimately his exile from France.

I quote from Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall (pp. 438–439):

While anarchism showed its ugliest and most destructive side in the terrorist acts at the end of the nineteenth century in France, it also inspired many artists and writers in its most creative form. Gustave Courbet of course had been a friend of Proudhon who had argued that art must have a moral and social purpose, and that it should be “an idealist representation of nature and ourselves with the aim of perfecting our species physically and morally.” The view was shared by Courbet who depicted the life of the poor, and it eventually contributed to the theory of social realism. Courbet in his famous Burial at Ornans tried to negate the ideal of Romanticism and arrive at the emancipation of the individual. He became a member of the Commune and responsible for artistic policy; as a result he was involved in the decision to demolish the Vendôme Column in Paris, a symbol of Napoleon’s military dictatorship.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 46 cm wide by 56 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Portrait of Adolphe Marlet by Gustave Courbet, recorded at the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin, on 22 December 2017.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Portrait of Adolphe Marlet by Gustave Courbet. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Denton, William. “Barnett Newman, Day One.” Listening to Art 01, no. 06 (01 August 2017).

Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Fontana, 1993.

National Gallery of Ireland. “Portrait of Adolphe Marlet.” National Gallery of Ireland.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Gustave Courbet,”

⸻, s.v. “Paris Commune,”