Monday, January 20, 2014

Realism (pt. 6)

Perhaps the most prominent artist of the movement was Gustave Courbet, a French painter and radical political idealist.  He took the Realist attention toward the common man to its limits, insisting on using commoners for models in all of his paintings and dressing in ragged clothes himself wherever he went.  His paintings showed honest scenes of how people really behave, such as this image of the Burial at Ornans.
It is the funeral of an ordinary villager.  Unlike El Greco's Burial of Count Orgaz, there are no saints—only commoners—and each is carrying a different expression on his or her face.  The priest routinely reads; the gravedigger seems bored and impatient.  The women mourners don't look convincing, and no one in the painting notices the cross.  Everyone is looking elsewhere, distracted, hardly present at the scene at all.  None of the pallbearers even look at the body.  The sky itself is cloudy and monotonous, the background scenery, uninteresting.  It is quite a boring event, isn't it; and the people in the painting appear bored.  This burial is just another routine event, a regular phenomenon in human life; nothing sacred or majestic.  Courbet's Realism shows the nakedness of human emotions in all of their earthly lack of grandeur.  It may not be very satisfying, but it's true to humankind.  The reality of life, the artist shows, is that the human animal is not saintly, not always beautiful, and is easily distracted from his present surroundings.  This scene is indeed of a burial, but not a very holy one; it's just another death in the life of lower-class society.

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