Letters of Gustave Courbet
The French Realist painter Gustave Courbet (1819-77), a pivotal figure in the emergence of modern painting, remains an artist whose interests, attitudes, and friendships are little understood. A voluminous correspondent, Courbet himself, through his letters, offers a tantalizing avenue toward a keener assessment of his character and accomplishments. In her critical edition of over six hundred of the artist's letters, Petra ten-Doesschate Chu presents just such a look at the inner life of the artist; her unparalleled feat of gathering together all of Courbet's known letters, many heretofore unpublished and untranslated, is sure to change our evaluation of Courbet's creativity and of his place in nineteenth-century French life. Beginning when Courbet left his provincial home at eighteen and ending eight days before his death in exile in Switzerland, this correspondence enables readers to follow the artist's development from youth to mature artist of international repute. Addressed to such varied and key figures of the Second Empire and the early Third Republic as Charles Baudelaire, Alfred Bruyas, Max Buchon, Champfleury, Pierre Dupont, Theophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, Claude Monet, the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Jules Simon, Jules Valles, and Francis Wey, Courbet's letters offer numerous insights into the artist's private and public personae, his work, and his participation in the cultural and political life of his day. They will encourage a rethinking of fixed notions about Courbet while they help to form a more nuanced picture of the artist's marketing strategies, his relation to the contemporary media, his deliberate choice of subject matter for Salon paintings, hispreoccupation with photography, and his reasons for participating in the Commune. The correspondence is also important for a better understanding of Courbet's work. The letters reveal that the artist produced an uninterrupted flow of portraits of family and friends, work unaccounted for today that appears to be as crucial to the development of Courbet's art as his larger, better-known paintings. Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, a recognized expert on nineteenth-century French art, has spent over ten years collecting, translating, and annotating these letters. Along with her annotations, she has provided this edition with an introduction, a detailed chronology, short biographies of Courbet's correspondents and persons appearing frequently in the letters, a list of paintings and sculptures mentioned in the letters, and an inventory of the letters and their whereabouts. The result is an invaluable cultural resource, as useful as it is readable, as illuminating as it is entertaining.
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