Published for an exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, this volume concentrates on Gustav Courbet's position as the first avant-garde painter. With his provocative canvases and his emphasis on the artist as individual, Courbet was a crucial precursor of modernism who broke with the conventions of traditional academic training. Featuring self-portraits, representations of women and pictures of grottos and seascapes, this volume highlights Courbet's innovative implementation of color and his strategic use of ambiguity. Other themes include his break with French academic tradition, the development of Realism in art, his revolutionary impasto painting technique and his playful treatment of traditional motifs and symbols. Courbet's famous painting "L'origine du monde" is at the heart of the book and exhibition. Made in 1866, the painting was for decades the unknown masterpiece of the nineteenth century-a work that few saw at the time but which everyone discussed, and which retains its provocativeness even today. Courbet's landscapes-depicting the springs, caves, steep limestone cliffs and the forests of Jura around Ornans, where he was born-are often combined with representations of the female nude, uniting sexuality and nature in a fascinating equilibrium. Other canvases center on the impenetrable darkness of mountain caves (showing Courbet to have been a master of suggestion), and snowscapes.
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