Friday, November 26, 2010

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) : the Passion of the Present

The Painter's Studio; A Real Allegory, 1855
Oil on canvas, 361 x 598 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris 

The original title of The Painter´s Studio by Courbet is:  'Allégorie réelle: intérieur de mon atelier, déterminant une phase de sept années de ma vie artistique'. The Studio is therefore a 'Real Allegory'. But allegory, as we know belongs to the order of the symbolic, not of the real. The designation by Courbet appears to be a contradictio in adjecto, a contradiction in terms. And yet, as a functional designation it does clarify the meaning of the scene for the viewer: it locates the subject of the painting in the painter´s life and career. 

Courbet transforms, recreates and supersedes traditional genre by fusing formal and rhetorical elements of historical painting, allegorical representation and the self portrait. Indeed The Studio is the reinvention of the self portrait as autobiography, a symbolic and yet real or realistic narrative centred in the figure of the painter. 
Perhaps its sole predecessor is Velazques´ Las Meninas, that also revolves around the figure of the artist. Both paintings present to the viewer, in their own specific forms and contexts, another contradiction in terms: they are "clear enigmas".

The life story of the modern artist is the subject of Courbet´s masterwork. The Studio is a place that congregates a multitude, colleagues, friends and the public, and where the real and the imaginary or symbolic come together, clarifying each other in isonomic exchanges and relations. The work of art is identified to the life work as the construction of a subjectivity.  In this case , an artistic subjectivity. By way of the artist, the subject of  The Studio is therefore Modern Art itself, the self-representation or self-elaboration of the concept of art in the changed cultural and historical context of the 19th century.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima

Gustave Courbet,
A Burial at Ornans, 1849-1850,
oil on canvas, 314 x 663 cm.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

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