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Self-portrait of personal desire

Posted May. 20, 2021 07:25,   

Updated May. 20, 2021 07:25


“Bonjour Monsieur Courbet” is the title of this famous painting by Gustave Courbet, who led the Realism movement in 19th-century France. The painter was commissioned by a patron, but oddly enough, the title is asking how the painter is doing. Why did the artist name the painting this way?  

Courbet previously drew paintings of peasants and laborers, which did not sell well. In 1853, when he turned 34, he fortunately met a wealthy patron named Alfred Bruyas. In the following year in May, Courbet created some masterpieces in Montpellier at Bruyas’ invitation, which includes this painting. The man in humble clothes who is climbing the hill is the painter. With a bag of tools on his back and a stick in his hand, he is depicted as a free-roaming person. In a smart green jacket, Courbet is escorted by his servants and dog and politely greets the artist. While the servant respectfully bows to the painter, Courbet appears to hold up his chin in an arrogant manner.  

When this painting was exhibited in the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855, people were shocked. They could not accept the fact that a wealthy patron would tip off his hat to bow respectfully to an artist. The title itself was named in ridicule by critics, the original title had been “The Meeting.” Courbet thought that it was only natural for the rich to respect and sponsor artists. Though the world he lived in valued money, Courbet’s own values were based on whether people had genius or not. He took great pride as an artist.

Saying hello, or to ask after someone’s being is to see if he or she is doing well. It would have not been easy to live at ease as a poor artist, particularly as a political artist working in turbulent times of the French Revolution. His painting could have been reflective of his own wishes to live in a world in comfort, financially sponsored by the rich and respected by the people.