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“In the world of art there has never been a personality so clamorously imposed upon the minds of its contemporaries as that of Courbet. He was anathema to his generation and he forced himself upon its judgment with all the weight of his loud voice, self-importance, and his intolerable and overweening vanity…. He had an enormous and rather gross appetite for fame, a Pantagruelesque thirst for glory. At all costs he must have people talking about him; he was perpetually outdoing himself in his efforts to astonish, always on the look out for a fresh opportunity of shocking the public into attention, when, weary and exhausted it turned its eyes away from him. He was the hub of the universe; he said so did genuinely believe it, so completely was he by his own boasting.”
I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t normally shy away from nudity in art, but Gustave Courbet is one of a handful of artists for whom this isn’t necessarily always the case. He will possibly be the only artist on the Ambleside Online rotation for whom I am reluctant to suggest any books containing collections of his works. This is primarily because the more innocent pieces he painted will be alongside far less innocent scenes that are most definitely not appropriate for children. For this reason, I don’t recommend having any books containing his works laying around for anyone to peruse. Children’s books about him are also non-existent.
He was, however, a very interesting character, as Bénédite gives us a hint at above, so if you’d like to read more about his life, I recommend his book, Gustave Courbet: With a Biographical and Critical Study (also available free through Google Books). The Century article I used for the biography section, “Gustave Courbet, Artist and Communist,” written in 1884, only seven years after his death, is also very interesting and can be found at Google books as well.
If you are interested in reading words directly from the man himself, The Letters of Gustave Courbet, edited by Petra Chu, offers an interesting glimpse into his mind (though not nearly as profound as Vincent van Gogh’s letters). Finally, Gerstle Mack wrote a biography published in 1951 simply titled Gustave Courbet, but I was not able to get a copy before posting this picture study aid so I’m not sure about the content.
This 23-page picture study aid includes a brief summary of the early life of Gustave Courbet, key topics about seven of his paintings, and seven printable versions of the paintings (without artist names or titles) at the end.
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis or study of each piece, and that is intentional. I tried to keep it all very simple in the spirit of there being, “no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.” (vol 6 pg 216)
For enjoying art with children in general, I also included a page of art sources that I’ve found particularly good:
For younger children, I highly recommend the Mini-Master series by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Also, the Touch The Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo.
For both younger and older children, the Come Look With Me series by Gladys S. Blizzard is excellent.
You may download it below for personal use in your own homeschool (Ambleside Online, another Charlotte Mason curriculum, or otherwise). And as always, if you have any feedback or suggestions, I would love for you to fill out my feedback form!