Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet

Birthname: Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet
Nationality: French
Date of birth: 10 June 1819
Place of birth: Ornans
Date of death: 1 December 1877
Place of death: La Tour-de-Pielz, Switzerland
Category: painter


Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet was a French painter and writer who came from a farming background in Franche-Comté.


Courbet was one of the central figures within the French Realist movement, and in 1855, when Whistler arrived in Paris, he was holding his own one-man show, his Pavilion du Réalisme, in defiance of the Salon and directly opposite the entrance of the official exhibition. Although entering the studio of Charles Gleyre, Whistler became friendly with many of the pupils of Courbet including Henri Fantin-Latour and Edgar Degas. Whistler's works of the late 1850s with their heavy impasto and low-life subject matter and his seascapes of the early 1860s show the impact that Courbet had on his art.

In the early 1860s Courbet and Whistler became good friends. Courbet painted a couple of portraits of Whistler's partner Joanna Hiffernan, La Belle Irlandaise and Jo, femme d'Irelande. However, at this time Whistler's work began to move away from the Realism of the older artist towards Aestheticism, as evidenced by his 'White Girl' paintings, Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl y052 and Symphony in White, No. 3 y061. In 1867 in a letter to Fantin-Latour Whistler expressed the wish to have been a pupil of Ingres and declared, 'Courbet and his influence were disgusting'.

However, Courbet's 'Manifestoes' may well have influenced Whistler's later art and his concern for self-promotion, particularly his relationship with the press.


Champfleury, 'Du réalism: Lettre à Madame Sand', L'Artiste, n.s. 5, vol. 16, 1855, pp. 1-5; Castagnary, J.-A., Les Libres Propos, Paris, 1864; Mantz, P., 'Gustave Courbet', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 17, 1878, pp. 514-27, vol. 18, 1878, pp. 17-29, 371-84; Castagnary, J.-A., Salons (1857-1870), 2 vols, Paris, 1892; Castagnary, J.-A., 'Fragments d'un livre sur Courbet', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, n.s. 2, vol. 5, 1911, pp. 5-20, vol. 6, 1912, pp. 488-97, vol. 7, 1912, pp. 19-30; Monneret, S., L'Impressionisme et son époque, Paris, 1978-79; Chu, P. ten-Doesschate (ed.), Courbet's Letters, Chicago, 1992; Herding, Klaus, 'Gustave Courbet', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy. 'Gustave Courbet (1819–1877)', Heilbrunn Timeline of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art website. 'Gustave Courbet (1819-1877): A Biography', Musée d'Orsay website.