Gustave Courbet was an artist said to have “bridged the gap between Romanticism and the Impressionists’ school of painters” (“Gustave Courbet”) and although he is often associated with realism, he shares elements of Romanticism. He was born into a prosperous farming family in 1819 and his sisters Zoe, Zelie and Juliette were his first models for his paintings. At the young age of 20 Courbet went to Paris to study at the studio of Steuben and Hesse. Being an independent spirit from the beginning, he later left to study the styles of Spanish, Flemish and French masters on his own. From early on, Courbet rejected what was popular at the time and instead based his paintings on observed reality. Courbet’s subject matter for painting included depicting unidealized paintings of peasants and workers that were often painted on a scale that was meant for historical and religious subjects.
Although Courbet himself never considered himself a romantic painter, many of his paintings, including this one of “The Desperate Man”, are teeming with Romantic characteristics. This painting was done between 1844 and 1845, during the middle to end of Romanticism. Courbet had a personality that was “bold, wily, radical, ambitious and determined” (“The Desperate Man…”) and this self-portrait depicts that. The New York Times stated that “No artists before Picasso put so much of himself on canvas” (“Gustave Courbet at …”). In this portrait you see a man in a frantic state of mind tearing at his hair with bulging eyes. The viewer sees the emotion behind this painting, the sheer panic of a man lost within in his own thoughts. His brows are in a worried position; as if by looking at the viewer he has seen something that is dooming. The lighting in this painting is also symbolic to his emotion with most of the light on his forearm, while his face is cast in shadow. The colors used in this painting point to Romanticism with the dark moody chromatic gray of the background, the black tie around his neck, his dark hair. Unlike the Romantics though, Courbet did not use smooth lines and soft forms. Instead, he used spontaneous brush strokes and created a roughness of paint texture.
This painting embodies Courbet and his personality extraordinarily. Courbet was an individual and wanted to make his own way when it came to art. He wanted to push the limits of what was acceptable at the time and he did this by producing works like this self-portrait. In “The Desperate Man”, Courbet is staring wide eyed at the viewer, interacting with the viewer in a way that was unlike any artwork before. Courbet is making his presence known in this portrait; he wants the viewer to pay attention to him. This portrait is screaming with emotion. While Courbet did not consider himself a Romantic painter, this portrait embodies many Romantic characteristics. Courbet was a controversial individual and changed the way people of his time and the present look at art.
“The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet – GalleryIntell.” GalleryIntell. Gallery Intell, 25 Feb. 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2014.
“Gustave Courbet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.
“Gustave Courbet.” WikiArt. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.