The Painter's Workshop, Courbet

The Painter's Workshop, Courbet
The Painter's Workshop, Courbet

The Painter's Workshop is a pictorial work done by the realist artist Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) in oil on canvas. In fact, its full title is The Painter's Workshop, Royal Allegory, Determining a Seven-Year Phase of My Artistic (and Moral) Life, although it is often referred to as Royal Allegory or simply The Painter's Workshop.


Courbet painted this work of enormous dimensions, measuring more than three meters high and five meters wide, between 1854 and 1855. The idea of ​​the artist was to present the work together with another eleven to the Hall of the Universal Exposition in Paris held that same year, however the hall rejected this work and Courbet in a gesture of self-affirmation decided to organize a parallel exhibition to the official hall: The Hall of Realism; however, the work did not receive as good reviews as the painter would have liked and was described as vulgar and mediocre.

The work represents the artist's workshop and the figures represented are allegories of the painter's artistic career. His work, in addition to an intricate iconographic program, presents great complexity when it comes to classifying it within a pictorial genre: he uses the landscape format so typical of history painting and it seems rightly the painter represents a scene from the past but there are also genres such as the portrait, a genre work and even astill life.

The work is arranged in three well-differentiated vertical bands: in the central area the realist painter paints a landscape scene while behind him a naked woman demands his attention, the whole it is completed with the presence of a white cat and a little boy who looks at the landscape of Courbet lost in thought. Both - the child and the naked woman - represent the ideal spectators, free from prejudice.

In the area on the left, a group of characters unrelated to art is represented, which he himself calls "those who thrived on death" and where he represents not only his enemies but also those involved with poverty, among them stands out the figure of a hunter who looks suspiciously like Napoleon III. In the group on the right the painter represents twelve characters who identify themselves as friends of art and therefore with Courbet himself, some of these figures are Baudelaire, Champfleury, Proudhonm…

The light enters the room through the window on the right, illuminating the characters on the right, the painter's friends, and it gets darker as we move to the left; in fact the canvas is quite dark since the painter used to first prime the canvas in black and then paint the lighter areas.

The palette is dominated by earthy and black tones, the impasto is loaded with a large amount of paint that, although it does not confer the finished taste of academic currents, is presented with great force before the spectator.

Courbet's work will influence artists as important as Manet himself in works such as The Music of the Tuileries. Today the work is kept in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

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