Courbet’s Corpulent Bathers: A Postscript

In the main entry on Courbet's Bathers I argued that the principal bather is a feminine version of the corpulent Courbet, her arm outstretched like his towards her "canvas", the wall of woods in front of her. She "touches" her canvas and thus paints it. A specialist, Frédérique Desbuissons, wrote something similar in reverse in 2008 noting that Courbet liked to think of himself as a representation of his own painting.1 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Courbet, Bathers (1853) Oil on canvas. Musée Fabre, Montpellier.

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She also cited a contemporary passage on the Bathers by Pierre-Joseph Prudhon, a philosopher and Courbet's friend whom Courbet would later portray in a posthumous portrait. Prudhon identified "that fleshy, affluent, middle-class woman deformed by fat and luxury" with Courbet's mind. "Does this thick piece of fat...not seem to render the mind of the artist a thousand times better than the most skillful allegory could do?"2

The ability to recognize self-representation in Courbet's art has always been there. The failure has been not to recognize the same feature in other artists across the centuries, from at least Leonardo to Lucian Freud.

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Courbet's Bathers

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1. Frédérique Desbuissons, “Courbet’s Materialism”, Oxford Art Journal 31, 2, 2008, pp. 255

2. Cited in ibid., p. 256

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