Courbet painted the famous painting The Artist's Studio between 1854 and 1855 with the intention of showing it at the Salon of 1855. The Salon that year was of particular importance as it was connected with the second Universal Exhibition: the first had been held in London in 1851 and had proved an enormous success. The painting was rejected and Courbet told his collector friend from Montpellier, Bruyas (one of the people in the picture), that the jury had turned it down because they thought it necessary to curb a tendency that would be disastrous for French art.
So the artist organized a one-man show with admission by ticket at the Pavilion du Realisme, and exhibited forty of his painting canvases. However, the reaction of the public was no different from that of the Salon's jury and very few people came to the exhibition: Delacroix wrote that when he went to see the works, which he considered genuine masterpieces but vulgar, he found himself completely alone for an hour.
The painting, which is highly symbolic in content, depicts a large studio with Courbet at the center, working on a landscape under the attentive eyes of a child. Behind him stands a model, or perhaps his inspiring muse, Reality, devoid of any clothing. The studio is filled with a large number of figures and some critics recognize in them the representation of two distinct realities; on the left of the painter we see a varied cross section of humanity including a poacher, a cloth merchant and a rabbi; on the right are the intellectuals, Baudelaire, reading a book, Proudhon and Champfleury. Perhaps the fact that Courbet is painting a landscape indicates the direction in which his interests were moving: from that time on, in fact, he was increasingly to concentrate on the genres of still life and landscape, and his landscapes and seascapes were to have a great influence on the Impressionist painters.
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