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Gustave Courbet was a truly gifted artist who was a respected draughtsman besides just his impressive work in oil painting. A wealth of drawings, of various levels of detail, have been uncovered from his career in recent generations and these help us to understand more about his techniques of preparation.
Gustave Courbet was passionate about portraiture, both capturing friends and relatives in his native countryside, but also often himself in glorious self portraits. One simply cannot impress in this complex genre without putting in considerable amounts of time in study and practice. Even the likes of Da Vinci and Michelangelo would endlessly sketch anatomies in order to perfect their skills. Courbet was also someone that spent large amounts of time with a simple sketchbook, where he would fill every available space with a limb, a face or perhaps a more complete portrait depiction.
The drawing included here was a charcoal self portrait, perhaps one of his most famous drawings of all. Most detail is focused on his face, capturing the self-confidence for which he was most famous. The rest of his body is carefully constructed but without the same level of detail. The angle of this drawing is down from below, looking up at the artist - this feeds into his dramatic and bold personality as he demonstrates his strength of mind. This is just one of a whole series of self portraits that he completed across his career, with the most famous of all being The Desperate Man. We include a larger version of the sketch at the bottom of the page so that you can fully appreciate the detail in this artwork.
Courbet produced a number of illustrations during his career and was even the subject of a number of caricatures from others on occasion. Some of these caricatures mocked his artistic style at a time when he was searching for support in the French capital, Paris. The accusations included stiff figures and also ugly rural people whom were not deemed suitable for art. Naturally, he ignored all of these petty comments and continued on his way. A number of his own illustrations would be used for various publications. He produced a number of portraits in charcoal, sometimes intended as gifts or genuine artworks in their own right, but other times were simply detailed studies for a later painting. Some of his paintings were huge, with a number of figures on each and he would not wish to commence these until he was confident in the composition in his mind.
The drawings of this artist have not been collated and documented in quite the same organised fashion as have his paintings. Some were previously part of sketchbooks, before being removed. As single pages, some have been damaged or lost. Others have been gifted to friends and donors. Many of those that have been researched in detail have been related to some of his more famous paintings, study sketches of elements of a scene. Those for other purposes have not been treated with the same care, indeed there may been many hundred still waiting to be identified. Even the many publications on his life and career tend to mention this art form more in passing, always from the perspective of a great painter who could also draw.