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The Calm Sea is one of the most famous landscape paintings produced by Gustave Courbet, who was best known as a figurative artist.
The style and composition found here is less bold than his work in other genres, as he provides a pleasing scene that will appeal to followers of landscape art. We was passionate about the French landscape but most of his work was created in-land, close to where he grew up as a boy. He also focussed on the farming community too, but later began to find an interest in seascape painting. The colour scheme found here is also much brighter than some of his earlier works.
In this scene we have minimal detail, and also no sign of human life. This helps to create the atmosphere of calm. There are two small fishing vessels, tied up and alone. We can imagine the waves lapping around them and providing a relaxing sound as the artist painted this work. He needs only tones of yellow and blue to put together most of the painting, other than some touches for the darker boats. There is some water left on the beach, suggesting the tide has gone out and left these boats to sit idly before it returns.
Courbet is known to have inspired the impressionists through his work within realism. Many elements of this seascape painting remind us of what work they would later produce, for it bears many hallmarks of a classic work by Monet or Bazille. The alternative colour scheme and content also shows how Courbet was a more versatile artist than he is sometimes given credit for. He would go on to make a number of successful seascape paintings during this period, many of which he sold on fairly quickly.