by Scholes, Robert
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Gustave Courbet (1819 - 1877)
He was born into an affluent farming family at Ornans, in Franche-Comté, and started school there, moving to the Royal College in Besançon in 1837, where he learned something about painting and lithography, and on to Paris in 1841, ostensibly to study law. There, he abandoned his legal studies and decided to paint seriously, beginning by copying old masters and visiting the studios of Parisian artists. He soon developed the realistic style that was to make him famous. By giving scenes from ordinary life monumental treatment, he helped to break down the traditional hierarchy of subject matter, emphasizing visual form. The impressionists knew and admired his work
He was politically on the left, and his republican sympathies led to his involvement in the Paris Commune of 1871 and to his imprisonment following the collapse of the revolutionary government. Accused of complicity in the destruction of the Vendôme column, a Paris monument, Courbet was ordered to pay a huge fine for its reconstruction, forcing him into exile in Switzerland in 1873.