Gustave Courbet (1819-1877, French)

Gustave-Courbet, cats in artJean Désiré Gustave Courbet (1819-1877, French) is known for being at the forefront of the Realism movement and making important social statements with his work. Courbet was born in Ornans into a prosperous farming family. Courbet travelled to Paris in 1839 and worked in the Steuben and Hesse studio. However, he soon left to explore his own style.

In the 1840’s he painted several self-portraits. During the 40’s he also travelled to the Netherlands and Belgium and confirmed his belief that life should be portrayed in a realistic manner. Champfleury, known for publishing the first book on cats, became one of his supporters.

By 1849, he had been welcomed by the Paris Salon. His painting The Burial at Ornans and The Stone Breakers (destroyed in WWII) became his most famous paintings. He painted figurative compositions, landscapes, seascapes and still lifes. He was controversial for his commentary on social issues through his works. Some of his works were also considered vulgar, such as paintings of the bourgeoisie, peasants and the working conditions of the poor.

Because of his paintings’ subject matter and his socialist leanings, Courbet became a celebrity and was called a “terrible socialist” and a “savage”. He mixed realism with political anarchy.

In 1855, Courbet submitted his painting The Artist’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artisic Moral Life to the Paris Salon which was declined because of space. So, he displayed the painting in his own studio. The painting is an allegory of Courbet’s life and is seen as his heroic adventure. On his right in the painting he is surrounded by friends and admirers. And on the left he is faced with challenges and opposition. Champfleury and Baudelaire are seen on his right. On the left are a priest, grave digger and others. Also, on the left is a man with dogs who is representative of Napoleon III. By his placement on the left, Courbet clearly expresses his disdain of the emperor. The placement of a nude model and cat in the center of the painting indicate his concentration on art and sensuality. The Artist’s Studio was seen as a masterpiece by his fellow artists Delacroix and Manet.

The Artist's Studio, Gustave Courbet, cats in art

The Artist’s Studio


The Artist’s Studio-Detail

In 1864, Courbet painted A Woman with a Cat. Of particular note is the use of the color white in the painting. During this time other artists had turned to using a lot of white in their paintings and, so too, Courbet followed suit. A woman with a white hat and a white dress holds a white cat. The painting focuses on the sensuality of the woman with her dress half off her shoulder and the coquettish look in her eyes. Holding a playful cat which symbolizes sexuality definitely brings out the eroticism of the painting.

1864-GUSTAVE COURBET , Woman with a Cat

Woman with a Cat, 1864

Because of Courbet’s involvement in the Paris Commune, he was sent to prison in 1871 for six months. To avoid bankruptcy, he lived in exile in Switzerland until his death in 1877.


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Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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