Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Gustave Courbet


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Gustave Courbet is generally recognized as the leader of the French Realist movement. Courbet attempted to show his political leanings through his choice of lifestyle and the subjects of his paintings.

  • Courbet's life as a bohemian demonstrated his unglamorous view of the world.
  • Courbet painted ordinary people and places to portray the French people as a political entity.

Courbet's self portrait, The Wounded Man, painted in 1855, shows a Christ-like figure who has presumably sacrificed his life for a cause. Courbet sacrificed his comfortable bourgeoisie lifestyle to live like a bohemian in Paris.

picture coutesy of


Courbet's Life: The Artist's Studio

Gustave Courbet was born into a wealthy bourgeoisie family in 1819. In 1841, Courbet left the countryside where he grew up to study law in Paris. However, this is where he discovered the joy of painting, and soon all interest in the law was gone. Courbet lived a Bohemian lifestyle, sacrificing many bourgeoisie comforts to paint in a creative environment.

The Painter's Studio is an allegory of Courbet's life, bringing together the different people he encountered. The painting is also a picture of the ages of man; it represents all stages of life, from the child at his mother's breast to the gravedigger in the background. In The Painter's Studio, Courbet also portrays representatives of society's upper, middle, and lower classes.

The Painter's Studio courtesy of

The Stone Breakers: Courbet's Ordinary People

Many of Courbet's paintings focus on everyday people and places in daily French life. Courbet painted these ordinary people in an attempt to portray the French people as a political entity. In this way Courbet's republicanism showed through in his work. Courbet truthfully portrayed ordinary people and places, leaving out the glamour that most French painters at that time added to their works. Because of this, Courbet became known as the leader of the Realist movement.

The Stone Breakers courtesy of

The Stone Breakers, painted in 1849, depicts two ordinary peasant workers. Courbet painted without any apparent sentiment; instead, he let the image of the two men, one too young for hard labor and the other too old, express the feelings of hardship and exhaustion that he was trying to portray. Courbet shows sympathy for the workers and disgust for the upper class by painting these men with a dignity all their own.



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