The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, 1844. (Private Collection) Oil on canvas. 45 x 55 cm.
Gustave Courbet completed many self-portraits in the early 1840s, yet this is the most striking of his productions. Such sustained interest in depicting himself reveals Courbet’s early interest in self-investigation and self-fashioning as a self-taught artist, as well as the requisite desire to advance the image of oneself as an artist. Here, Courbet illustrates himself as a rather manic and dramatic individual. Heavy chiaroscuro effects lend to the theatricality and intensity, making up for the rather awkward foreshortening of his arms and strange flatness of his clothing. Indeed, this early in his career, Courbet was still entrenched in the Romanticist wave of art in Europe, but the relatively unflattering color palette already hints at his interest in what he would soon come to term “realism” - the pursuit of absolute truth and the abolishment of artificiality in art.
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