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Gustave Courbet

February 27–May 18, 2008

The Painter of Modern Life

The scandals that defined Courbet's early career, which culminated in his Pavilion of Realism and accompanying "Realist Manifesto," gave way to a period of apparent conformity to convention. In 1857 Courbet exhibited six paintings at the official Paris Salon, including his first hunt scene, The Quarry, and his portrait of the singer Louis Gueymard as Robert le Diable. Champfleury, an early defender, later chastised him for catering to public opinion and wanting "to please."

During the 1850s Courbet embraced modern life, broadening his imagery beyond Ornans. Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine also exhibited at the Salon of 1857, was explicitly contemporary in its subject—suburban leisure—and its depiction of the fashions of the Second Empire, though the questionable morality of these women scandalized the public.

In 1865, while painting in Trouville, a popular Normandy resort, Courbet tried his hand at society portraiture, as seen, for example, in his depictions of the Nodler brothers. Courbet's activities in Trouville prompted a critic to announce: "Courbet has converted. He has sworn off his old genre in order to cultivate the neo-bourgeois."

At Trouville, Courbet painted alongside the young American artist James McNeill Whistler and became enamored of Whistler's model Joanna Hiffernan. Courbet's engagement with modernity resonated in the art of the next generation, including Manet, Monet, and the emerging Impressionists.