Sunday, March 23, 2008
Courbet's 'mad wallow' at the Met
"L'Origine du Monde," 1866, Gustave Courbet
It still shocks. Even in this porned-out generation, our eyes dilate a little. Banned in Paris in 1866, "L"Origine du Monde" was the work of Gustave Courbet, the French painter who supposedly coined the word "realism." Courbet was taking aim at the sly decadence of the French Romantics of his time, who disguised the eroticism of their paintings by placing them in the classical past & coyly hiding the crucial parts of their smooth-limbed maidens. Not Courbet. This is what you're truly interested in, he says. Direct from life, right here, right now. This is what it looks like.
"Self-portrait with pipe," 1848-49, Gustave Courbet
But Courbet was more than firebrand & provocateur. He could really paint. In addition to nudes, he painted portraits, landscapes & seascapes, as well as lower-class scenes that expressed his socialist ideas & infuriated the elite. So it's something of an occasion when the Met mounts a retrospective of 130 of Courbet's paintings Here's what Peter Schjeldahl (a critic who can really write) says about the show:
"Courbet's drenching seascapes should come with towels and his steaming nudes with towelettes... Nothing could be better therapy for a bodiless society of cybernetic narcissisms than the mad wallow of this show."