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A Burial at Ornans

Gustave Courbet

A Burial at Ornans

Gustave Courbet
  • Date: 1849 - 1850
  • Style: Realism
  • Genre: genre painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: countryside
  • Dimensions: 315 x 668 cm
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This painting depicts the burial of Courbet’s great uncle in the small French town of Ornans, and it is considered to be one of the turning points in French art. The painting depicted the scene with an unflattering air, and it did not romanticize the depictions of grief and mourning, as in traditional Romantic paintings. Critics of the piece decried both the style of the painting as well as the size. At 10 feet tall by 22 feet wide, the size of the canvas was typically reserved for religious or heroic scenes, and the painting critics said was intentionally ugly and harsh. For the subjects in the painting, Courbet also used the real people who had actually been at the burial, rather than actors used as models for the art. As it had such a deleterious effect on the Romantic style of painting, it could also be easily called “The Burial of Romanticism,” as Courbet himself said: “The Burial at Ornans was in reality the burial of Romanticism.”

This 22 foot long canvas situated in a main room at the Musee d'Orsay buries the viewer as if he or she were in a cave. In a decidedly non-classical composition, figures mill about in the darkness, unfocused on ceremony. As a prime example of Realism, the painting sticks to the facts of a real burial and avoids amplified spiritual connotations. Emphasizing the temporal nature of life, Courbet intentionally did not let the light in the painting express the eternal. While sunset could have expressed the great transition of the soul from the temporal to the eternal, Courbet covered the evening sky with clouds so the passage of day into night is just a simple echo of the coffin passing from light into the dark of the ground. Some critics saw the adherence to the strict facts of death as slighting religion and criticized it as a shabbily composed structure with worn-faced working folk raised up to life-size in a gigantic work as if they had some kind of noble importance. Other critics such as Proudhon loved the inference of equality and virtue of all people and recognized how such a painting could help turn the course of Western art and politics.

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A Burial At Ornans (French: Un enterrement à Ornans, also known as A Funeral At Ornans) is a painting of 1849–50 by Gustave Courbet, and one of the major turning points of 19th-century French art. The painting records the funeral in September 1848 of his great-uncle in the painter's birthplace, the small town of Ornans. It treats an ordinary provincial funeral with unflattering realism, and on the giant scale traditionally reserved for the heroic or religious scenes of history painting. Its exhibition at the 1850–51 Paris Salon created an "explosive reaction" and brought Courbet instant fame. It is currently displayed at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.

The Salon found Courbet triumphant with The Stone Breakers, the Peasants of Flagey, and A Burial at Ornans. People who had attended the funeral were used as models for the painting. Previously, models had been used as actors in historical narratives; here Courbet said that he "painted the very people who had been present at the interment, all the townspeople". The result is a realistic presentation of them, and of life, in Ornans.

The painting, which drew both praise and fierce denunciations from critics and the public, is an enormous work, measuring 10 by 22 feet (3.1 by 6.6 metres), depicting a prosaic ritual on a scale which previously would have been reserved for a work of history painting. According to art historian Sarah Faunce, "In Paris the Burial was judged as a work that had thrust itself into the grand tradition of history painting, like an upstart in dirty boots crashing a genteel party, and in terms of that tradition it was of course found wanting." Then too, the painting lacks the sentimental rhetoric that was expected in a genre work: Courbet's mourners make no theatrical gestures of grief, and their faces seem more caricatured than ennobled. The critics accused Courbet of a deliberate pursuit of ugliness. Eventually the public grew more interested in the new Realist approach, and the lavish, decadent fantasy of Romanticism lost popularity. The artist well understood the importance of this painting; Courbet said: "The Burial at Ornans was in reality the burial of Romanticism." It might also be said to be the burial of the hierarchy of genres which had dominated French art since the 17th century.

In 1873, when Courbet's political views had changed, he repudiated the work saying that it was "worth nothing".

This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →


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