Friday, November 11, 2005

Gustave Courbet's Young Ladies from the Village (1852) at the Met

Here's a brief discussion of a seemingly ugly painting by Courbet of three young women distributing alms to a young peasant girl in rural France, exhibited at the salon of 1852. The Daumier print below, The Bourgeois at the Salon, points out the irony of the "high" art at the salon while also poking fun at the well-dressed man who makes a real effort to grapple with it. Right click here to download the mp3 or use the player below to listen to the podcast.


Anonymous Timothy Connell said...

First of all, with regard to the reference to Ohio and the unsophisticates who supposedly live here -- the Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the greatest museums in the US. Cincinnati and Toledo also have fine collections. We do not need to travel 700 miles to see a great European painting.

More substantively, the late 1840s, shortly before this painting was shown at the salon, was a time of great turmoil. Two bad harvests in Europe(1847-48) were contributing factors to the "year of revolutions" in 1848. That year Louis Napoleon came to power and shortly thereafter, in 1851, I believe, he declared himself to be Napoleon III. Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. These were highly charged political times that would most likely would have influenced how wealthy Parisians viewed this painting.

I think that the key to understanding it is the issue of giving alms to the poor. Is Courbet suggesting that the better off should help the poor as shown here, which in this case would be subtle praise for his sisters? Or is he possibly suggesting that the middle class thinks that throwing an occassional scrap to the poor is all that is necessary, thus mocking their trite gesture. A like image today might be a wealthy businessman or woman throwing a dollar or two to a homeless person on the street. Are they truly generous or justgiving a token to make themselves feel better.

3/22/2006 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Beth Harris and Steven Zucker said...

Dear Timothy,
The unrest of 1848 is clearly important to Courbet but I am uncomfortable making a direct link between those events and this particular painting. You may well be right but that is research I haven't seen. As for the Ohio comment, yes of course the great state of Ohio has exceptional museums but I think its pretty clear Ohio's value as an art center wasn't our point. The point was to produce an informal and unscripted conversation.

3/30/2006 11:27:00 PM  
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