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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Gustave Courbet quotes help to give us all a better insight into the mind of this highly influential artist who held a strong wild towards persevering with his preferred artistic style.

This was an artist famed for his huge ego. It would be no surprise, therefore, to unddrstand that so many opinions from his lifetime have been documented. At the unofficial leader of the Realist movement, he was also an influential individual whose views on the art world were continually sought. Many other famous names have also taken influences from his paintings and some of their views are also featured here.

Famous Quotes by Gustave Courbet

Art in painting should consist only of the representation of things that are visible and tangible.

Art or talent, for an artist, is merely a means of applying his personal faculties to the ideas and the things of the period in which he lives.

Beauty, like truth, is relative to the time when one lives and to the individual who can grasp it.

Fine art is knowledge made visible.

France is the only nation in which astoundingly small numbers of civilized patrons reside.

I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: 'He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.

I am not one who was born in the custody of wisdom; I am one who is fond of olden times and intense in quest of the sacred knowing of the ancients.

I deny that art can be taught, or, in other words, maintain that art is completely individual, and that the talent of each artist is but the result of his own inspiration and his own study of past tradition.

I have never seen angels. Show me an angel and I will paint one.

I have studied the art of the masters and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I have no more wanted to imitate the former than to copy the latter; nor have I thought of achieving the idle aim of art for art's sake.

I hope always to earn my living by my art without having ever deviated by even a hair's breadth from my principles... to please anyone or to sell more easily.

I hope to live all my life for my art, without abandoning my principles one iota.

It is fatal for art if it is forced into official respectability and condemned to sterile mediocrity.

It is not possible to have schools for painting; there are only painters. Schools have no use except for discerning the analytic procedures of art.

My God, you are a seraph, Boudin! You are the only one of us who really knows the sky!

Painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist of real and existing things... an object which is abstract, not visible, non-existent, is not within the realm of painting.

Painting is the representation of visible forms. The essence of realism is its negation of the ideal.

The beautiful is in nature, and it is encountered under the most diverse forms of reality. Once it is found, it belongs to art, or rather to the artist who discovers it.

The expression of beauty is in direct ratio to the power of conception the artist has acquired.

The real artists are those who pick up their age exactly at the point to which it has been carried by preceding times. To go backward is to do nothing; it is pure loss; it means that one has neither understood nor profited by the lessons of the past.

The state is not competent in artistic matters... When the state leaves us free, it will have carried out its duty.

The title of Realist was thrust upon me just as the title of Romantic was imposed upon the men of 1830. Titles have never given a true idea of things: if it were otherwise, the works would be unnecessary.

Titles have never given a just idea of things; were it otherwise, the work would be superfluous.

To be able to translate the customs, ideas and appearance of my times as I see them – in a word, to create a living art – this has been my aim.

To know in order to do: such has been my thought. To be able to translate the customs, ideas, and appearance of my time as I see them – in a word, to create a living art – this has been my aim.

When I am dead, let it be said of me: 'He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any regime except the regime of liberty.

When I am no longer controversial, I will no longer be important.

When we see men of worth, we should think of equalling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inward and examine ourselves.

Without expanding on the greater or lesser accuracy of a name which nobody, I should hope, can really be expected to understand, I will limit myself to a few words of elucidation in order to cut short the misunderstandings.

Without trying to clear up the degree of correctness of a qualification which no one, one must hope, will be asked to understand exactly, I will limit myself to a few words of explanation to cut short any misunderstandings.

My paintings are received by the jury these days without any kind of objection. I am considered as let in by the public and beyond judgement. They have finally left responsibility for my paintings up to me. I annex ground every day. All Paris is waiting to see them and to hear the noise they will make. As for The Bathers, it's a bit scary, but since then I've added a cloth over the buttocks. The landscape in this painting is generally successful.

Quotes about Gustave Courbet by Art Historians, Critics and Fellow Artists

I went to see the paintings by Courbet. I was astonished by the vigour and the relief of his vast picture; but what a painting! What a subject! The commonness of the forms would not matter; it is the commonness and uselessness of the thought which are abominable.. ..Oh Rossini! Oh Mozart! Oh geniuses inspired by all the arts, who draw from things only the elements that are shown to the mind! What would you say before these pictures?

Eugene Delacroix

The landscape [in his painting The Bathers, painted by Courbet in 1853] is of an extraordinary vigor, but Courbet has done no more than enlarge a study exhibited there, near his large canvas; the conclusion is that the figures [the two bathers in the painting] were put in afterwards and without connection with their surroundings. This brings up the question of harmony between the accessories and the principal object, a thing lacking in the majority of great painters.

Eugene Delacroix

..a valiant fellow; he has a broad conception that one might adopt, but still it seems to me to be rather course in details..

Eugene Boudin

I don't need to plead for modern subjects here. This cause was won a long time ago. After those remarkable works by Edouard Manet and Courbet, no-one would now dare to say that the present day is unworthy of being painted.. .We find ourselves faced with the only reality: in spite of ourselves, we encourage our painters to portray us just as we are, with our styles of dress and our manners.

Emile Zola

Courbet! and his influence was odious! the regret I feel and the rage, hate even, I feel for all that now would astonish you perhaps but this is the explanation. It's not poor Courbet whom I find loathsome, any more than his paintings work - As always I recognize the qualities they have - I am not complaining either about the influence of his painting on mine - there was none, and you will not find it in my canvases - There couldn't be; because I am too personal and I had many qualities that he did not have but which suited me well - But this is the reason why all that was so bad for me. That damned Realism made an immediate appeal to my vanity as a painter! and mocking all tradition cried out loud, with all the confidence of ignorance, 'Long live Nature!!' nature! My dear fellow, that cry was a great misfortune for me! - Where could you have found an apostle more ready to accept this theory, so appealing to him!. ..Ah my friend! our little band [artist-group around Courbet] was a depraved group! Oh! how I wish I had been a pupil of Ingres! .. .But I repeat I wish I had been his pupil! What a master he would have been - How soundly he would have guided us - drawing!

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

I recently saw the exhibition of French art (on the Boschkant) from the collections of Mesdag, Post &c. .. .I especially liked the large sketch by T. Rousseau from the Mesdag collection, a drove of cattle in the Alps. And a landscape by Courbet ['Hilly landscape', 1858/1859 59][1] yellow hilly, sandy ground, with fresh young grass growing here and there, with black brushwood fences against which a few white birch trunks stand out, grey buildings in the distance with red and blue slate roofs. And a narrow, small, light delicate grey band of sky above. The horizon very high, however, so that the ground is the main thing, and the delicate little band of sky really serves more as contrast to bring out the rough texture of the masses of dark earth. I think this is the most beautiful work by Courbet that I've seen so far.

Vincent van Gogh

A builder. A rough and ready plasterer. A colour grinder. He [Gustave Courbet] is like a Roman bricklayer. And yet he's another true painter. There's no one in this century that surpasses him. Even though he rolls up his sleeves, plugs up his ears, demolishes columns, his workmanship is classical!.. .His view was always compositional. His vision remained traditional. Like his palette-knife, he used it only out of doors. He was sophisticated and brought his work to a high finish.. .His great contribution is the poetic introduction of nature - the smell of damp leaves, mossy forest cuttings - into nineteenth century painting; the murmur of rain, woodlands shadows, sunlight moving under trees. The sea. And snow, he painted snow like no one else!

Paul Cezanne

But what an eye Monet has, the most prodigious eye since painting began! I raise my hat to him. As for Courbet, he already had the image in his eye, ready-made. Monet used to visit him [Courbet], you know, in his early days.

Paul Cezanne

A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its outline. The objects and figures represented in it must likewise poetically tell you of something that is far away from them and also of what their shapes materially hide from us. A certain dog painted by Courbet is like the story of a poetic and romantic hunt.

Giorgio de Chirico

On the left is the realist tradition of the 19th century, with its impulse to social description, radical criticism and meditation on things as they are.. ..culminating in Courbet at his mightiest [paintings] (The Studio, The Funeral at Ornans and a portrait of a trout that has more death in it than Rubens could get in a whole Crucifixion).

Robert Hughes