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Painting in the Second Half of the Nineteenth CenturyDuring the second half of the nineteenth century the ideal of self-determinationfostered by the French Revolution and spread by Napoleon helped spawn a revolutionaryspirit across Europe This spirit of rebellion also infected artists of the period Paintersbegan to challenge the philosophy and the aesthetic principles of the academies lookingoutside these conservative institutions for their training subject matter style andpurpose While many artists and critics promoted the status quo others sought changeseeing validity in new themes and new approaches To many artists the histories andmythologies still promoted by the academies offered no inspiration and so they turnedelsewhere for their subject matter Some looked to nature others to daily life and stillothers to themes of the worker the poor and the oppressed As they sought alternativesmany artists gathered in groups based on common interests Outside the establishedmainstream of their own time the Realists the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists broadened the horizons of Western artGustave Courbet 1819-1877 a self declared Realist rejected the inherentsentimentality of work by the Romantics Courbet s interest in portraying things as theyreally appear together with his nonacademic orientation placed him in the front rank ofthe quest for realism the premise for much of the artistic activity of the period MichaelWood quotes Courbet as saying It was not my intention of attaining the trivial goal ofart for art s sake My aim is to translate the customs the ideas and the appearance of myown epoch as I see them According to Janson The storm broke in 1849 when heexhibited The Stone breakers the first canvas fully embodying his programmaticRealism dcv Courbet was inspired by the complete expression of human misery hesaw in an encounter with an old road worker in tattered clothes and his young assistantThe painting was completely ridiculed by critics and public alike it was consideredunsuitable for artistic representation and linked to the newly defined working classwhich was finding outspoken champions in men like
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