La Peinture Réaliste, 1865
Oil on panel, 56 x 45 cm
Presented, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, 1950
This satire on the realism of Courbet is one of Couture's best-known and most controversial paintings. The realism of the mid 19th century was intended to be an attack on the institutionalised classical model.
Couture ran an atelier in Paris from 1847 to 1860, attracting pupils from all over Europe and North America. He based his own teaching methods on the art of ancient Greece and the classical Renaissance masters. The realists, by contrast, preferred to reproduce the vulgarity of modern life, an attitude that Couture attacked in his Methodes et Entretiens d'Atelier of 1867: 'I am depicting the interior of a studio of our time; it has nothing in common with the studios of earlier periods, in which you could see fragments of the finest antiquities...As for the painter, he is a studious artist, fervent, a visionary of the new religion. He copies what? Its quite simple - a pig's head - and as a base what does he choose? That's less simple, the head of Olympian Jupiter.' Along the wall are strung a cabbage, and old lantern and a shoe, allegedly sources of inspiration for the Realist painters.