The painter Gustave Courbet started and dominated the French movement towards realism. Art critics and the public were accustomed to pretty pictures that made life look better than it was. Courbet, against much opposition, truthfully portrayed ordinary places and people.
In 1848 a political revolution in France foreshadowed a revolution in art, as people in the arts became more open to new ideas. Courbet's early work was exhibited successfully in 1849. That same year he visited his family in the countryside and produced one of his greatest oil paintings, The Stone-Breakers, followed by Burial at Ornans in 1850. Both were quite unlike the romantic oil paintings of the day because they showed peasants in realistic settings instead of the rich in glamorized situations. In 1855 he completed a huge canvas, The Artist's Studio, and, when it was refused for an important exhibition, Courbet boldly displayed his work himself near the exhibition hall.
Politically a socialist, Courbet took part in some revolutionary activities for which he was imprisoned for six months in 1871. He was also fined more than he could pay, so he fled to Switzerland, where he died in the town of La Tour-de-Peilz on Dec. 31, 1877.
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