Gustave Courbet versus Edouard Manet in modern art

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Gustave Courbet was a rebellious artist who in 1839 as a 20-year-old in Paris, sought to overturn the official establishment of art by introducing the artistic style of realism into the public sphere. Courbet refused to enroll in the established academies of art in Paris, and instead devoted his young artistic mind to introducing modernism into the artistic sphere. Courbet harbored the belief that objects should be portrayed by art as they are by emphasizing and enhancing the use of texture, light, and hue. Courbet’s pioneering efforts met intense resistance from art establishments at the time, particularly from the French government’s institutions of fine arts (Met Museum 01). Through their zeal and amid the resistance for established quarters of the Paris arts community, Courbet and other pioneers like Edouard Manet and Camille Pissarro sponsored the radical direction of art that lay the foundation for the rise of modernism.

Besides Courbet, the rise of modernism was spurred by the efforts of Edouard Manet. Like Courbet, Manet’s objective as an artist was to challenge the established artistic conventions of the French Salon and the Paris Academy of Fine Arts. Manet came from an upper-class family, and his financial strength helped stage the first public exhibitions of the artworks by Courbet, Manet, Pissarro and other radical impressionists of the 19th-Century Europe. As one of the leading socially progressive artists, Manet sought to alter the key elements of conventional artistic styles (Nochlin 12). The deliberate altering of established artistic styles caused Manet a myriad of scandals from the French Salon. Through their radical artistic efforts, it is arguable that Courbet and Manet contributed the most to the rise of modern art. Whereas Courbet established modernism through the invention of the technical aspects of expressionism, Manet’s contributions was most felt through his patronage role in the publicity staging of expressionist exhibitions.

The stylistic and technical contributions of Courbet and Manet to modern art are evident in some of the artists’ iconic paintings. Edouard Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’berbe reveals the revolutionary spirit that motivated Manet’s role in the development of modern art. In the Dejeuner sur l’berbe, Manet depicted a naked portrait of Victorine, his favorite model. The depiction of the naked woman with a painted moustache surrounded by the two clothed men seemed as a mockery to the established artistic rules of the time. In practice, Manet’s painting style “seemed vicious and destructive” (Nochlin 14). Through Dejeuner sur l’berbe, Manet expressed his desire to violate and distort any established painting tradition, and paid keen attention to destroying the timeless customs of paintings. In essence, Dejeuner sur l’berbe demonstrated the technical destructive nature of avant-garde artistic styles employed by Manet.

On the contrary, Courbet did not express any desire to violate the established traditions of the artistic culture in 19th-Century Europe. As seen in his painting The Desperate Man, Courbet intended to expand and refine the artistic realms of the time as opposed to violating the established conventions of painting. Instead of destroying the styles of painting, Courbet exaggerated them and strived to reform any stylistic and technical aspect of art which he felt had fallen behind in time (Berman 01). The Desperate Man painting demonstrated that Courbet was innovative unlike Manet who was destructive in reference to the established artistic practices of their time.

Despite the different approaches of Courbet and Manet in their contributions of modern art, the two artists shared identifiable similarities in their technical and stylistic cultures. In both The Desperate Man and Dejeuner sur l’berbe, the painting styles were personal and spontaneous in nature. In essence, the painting styles employed by the two artists were highly subjective, and failed to conform to any social and political ideas of their time. The ultra-impressionist use of brushstrokes in enhancing the vagueness in The Desperate Man was arguably meant to enhance the embodiment of Courbet’s personal feelings (Nochlin 14). Similarly, the self-destructive technique of making art employed by Manet in the creation of Dejeuner sur l’berbe was intended to reveal the feelings of self-alienation that was characteristic of Manet during his time. In this regard, both Manet and Courbet employed artistic styles meant to advance the ideology and practice of spontaneous self-expression.  

In the Dejeuner sur l’berbe, Manet revealed his careless handling of paint. Rather than the careful use of paint as to safeguard the portrayal of conventional elements, Manet expressed the use of loose brushstrokes as to either alter traditional elements or introduce new elements as evidenced by the moustache on a woman in the Dejeuner sur l’berbe. In The Desperate Man, Courbet also expressed the loose handling of paint in developing the hue that suited the final effect of the painting (Berman 01). Technically, Courbet expressed the use of jarring and spontaneous styles to enhance the expression of personalized emotional effects. Thus, the technical and stylistic approaches employed by Manet and Courbet were similar, and meant to facilitate the exaggerated or distorted expression of personal emotions.

In conclusion, it is evident that Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet laid the foundation to the establishment of avant-garde. It was through the personalized radical efforts of Courbet and Manet that the painting traditions in the 19th Century were challenged and revolutionized. Despite sometimes having different approaches in their pioneering efforts, Courbet and Manet employed similar technical and stylistic approaches in promoting the radical practices of modern art.

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  1. Berman, Avis. “Larger than life: Whether denouncing France’s art establishment or challenging Napoleon III, Gustave Courbet never held back.” Smithsonian Magazine, April 2008. Web
  2.  Met Museum. “Gustave Courbet.” MetMuseum.Org 2008, Web
  3. Nochlin, Linda. The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society. Pittsburg: Harper & Row Publishing, 1989. Print
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