Listening to Art

06.10: Gustave Courbet, The Painter's Studio

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume six, number ten: The Painter’s Studio by Gustave Courbet.

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

The complete title of this 1855 painting is, in English, The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summing Up a Seven-Year Phase of My Artistic Life. Courbet submitted it and other works to the art show at the Exhibition Universelle in Paris that year; most were accepted but it and A Burial at Ornans (both very large paintings) were rejected, so in response Courbet set up his own show of his own work and called it the Pavilion of Realism. Laurence des Cars described the situation in the catalogue Gustave Courbet (p. 220):

Courbet had no intention of allowing the ambitious scale of his intentions to be passed over, deciding therefore to organize a one-man exhibition with entry fee, to be held at the same time as the official event. He had been thinking about this possibility for several months, seeking—unsuccessfully—financial support from Alfred Bruyas. The rejection of his works made him resolve to ignore these difficulties and to initiate a plan of a kind scarcely imagined before. In doing so, he was able to assert the independence of the artist in the face of the official system. The Pavillon du Réalisme—a building of iron, bricks, and mortar, surrounded by a garden of lilac trees—was constructed defiantly on Avenue Montaigne, right opposite the Palais des Beaux-Arts.

The artist Eugène Delacroix wrote about the show in his Journals on 03 August 1855. I quote from the Phaidon Press edition, edited by Hubert Wellington and translated by Lucy Norton.

Went to the Exhibition, where I noticed the fountain that spouts artificial flowers.

I think all these machines are very depressing. I hate these contrivances that look as though they were producing remarkable effects entirely on their own volition.

Afterwards I went to the Courbet exhibition. He has reduced the price of admission to ten sous. I stayed there for nearly an hour and discovered a masterpiece in the picture which they rejected; I could scarcely bear to tear myself away. He has made enormous strides, and yet this picture has taught me to appreciate his Enterrement [Burial]. In this picture the figures are all on top of one another and the composition is not well arranged, but some of the details are superb, for instance, the priests, the choirboys, the weeping women, the vessel for holy water, etc. In the later picture (The Studio) the planes are well understood, there is atmosphere, and in some passages the execution is really remarkable, especially the thighs and hips of the nude model and the breasts—also the woman in the foreground with the shawl. The only fault is that the picture, as he has painted it, seems to contain an ambiguity. It looks as though there were a real sky in the middle of a painting. They have rejected one of the most remarkable works of our time, but Courbet is not the man to be discouraged by a little thing like that.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 598 cm wide by 361 cm high.

Now let’s listen to The Painter’s Studio by Gustave Courbet, recorded at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, on 16 July 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was The Painter’s Studio by Gustave Courbet. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Delacroix, Eugène. The Journal of Eugène Delacroix. 3rd ed. Edited by Hubert Wellington. Translated by Lucy Norton. London: Phaidon Press, 2001.

des Cars, Laurence. “74. The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summing Up a Seven-Year Phase of My Artistic Life.” In Gustave Courbet, by Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Laurence des Cars, Michel Hilaire, Bruno Mottin and Bertrand Tillier, 220–225. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, 2008.

Musée d’Orsay. “Gustave Courbet, The Artist’s Studio.” Musée d’Orsay.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Gustave Courbet,”

⸻, s.v. “The Painter’s Studio,”'s_Studio.