• Burial at Ornans

Burial at Ornans

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Burial at Ornans
Artist: Courbet
Oil painting on canvas; Size: 315x668cm; Musk d'Orsay, Paris.

The painting was executed in 1849 and shown at the Salon of 1850. The decision to represent ordinary people in a picture of large dimensions prompted much criticism: at the time it was thought that the common people could only be the subject of descriptive paintings of small size, which either oozed a sense of superiority on the part of their authors or were satirical in their intent. The choice of the dimensions and format of the history painting, considered the highest of the genres, to depict the people attending this funeral is in itself sufficient to demonstrate the importance Courbet assigned to them.
In a letter to Jules Champfleury, the writer and art critic who was to draw up the manifesto of the new literary current of Realism in 1857, the painter wrote: "Among those who have already posed are the mayor, who weighs a hundred kilos, the curate, the commissar, the cross-bearer, the notary, councilor Marlet, my friends, my father, the altar boys, the gravedigger, two old men of the 1793 revolution wearing the clothes of that time, a dog, a dead man and his bearers, the sextons (one of them has a nose like a cherry but of large proportions and five inches long), my sisters, other women, etc. I thought I could do without two choristers of the parish, but there was no getting round it; they came to tell me that they were offended because they were the only ones in the parish not to have been portrayed. They complained bitterly, saying that they had never done me any ill and did not deserve such an affront." When the painting was exhibited Champfleury declared: "From now on the critics will have to decide whether they are for or against realism."

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