October 30, 2007

Courbet retrospective in Paris

"Courbet," curated by Laurence des Cars, Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Gary Tinterow, and Michel Hilaire. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. Through Jan. 28. Schedule: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Feb.27 to May 18; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, June 13 to Sept. 28.

The exhibition, which includes over 130 paintings and is due in NYC in February, explores Courbet's development of a Realism manifesto, his relationship to Romanticism, and the importance of his work to the beginning of Impressionism. In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones writes that Courbet, like Caravaggio, is a mesmerizing painter of sex and death, whose stark, realist paintings foretold the alienation of the modern age."His sensual brush grasps at everything in the material world, even tries to catch water as it flows away. From the first room with its series of self-portraits in which the young Courbet tries to work out who he is - a pale cellist or a wounded soldier? - his art has a rare human directness. You end up agreeing with his contemporary who said he produced masterpieces as simply as an apple tree produces apples....It's hard to draw lines across time and say this is where something new begins. Many things that have been written about the originality of A Burial at Ornans are excessive - such as the art historian Linda Nochlin's claim that nobody had ever painted death in such a desolate, godless way before. There are Old Master pictures in which death appears utterly final and unredeemed. Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin is one; so is Holbein's The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, in Basel, which happens to be relatively near Ornans. Courbet's painting is unprecedented not in its depiction of death but in its recognition of a new social world."

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