Allegory by Tambling Jeremy

Allegory by Tambling Jeremy

Author:Tambling, Jeremy [Tambling, Jeremy]
Language: zho
Format: epub
Tags: Literature, Language &#038
Publisher: T & F Books UK
Published: 2009-09-02T16:00:00+00:00

COURBET’S ‘REAL ALLEGORY’

Allegory in the nineteenth century, as outside realism, and outside thinking which works with a sense of clear, single identity, ceases to be that which has one meaning only: allegory no longer means in the old A equals B mode. This can be seen in the openness to different interpretations – or to no interpretation at all – which is apparent in the work of the French artist Gustave Courbet (1819–77). In 1851, the year of Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état in France, which put the country on a reactionary course for the next twenty years, Courbet announced himself as ‘not only a Socialist, but a democrat and a Republican as well: in a word, a lover of the whole Revolution, and above all, a Realist, that is to say a sincere lover of genuine truth’ (Clark, 1973:23). Courbet was famous for his anti-idealism in art and for his paintings of the French countryside and of peasants, which did not show the kinds of pleasant pastoral scenes whose idealized values the bourgeoisie could buy and feel thereby that they had appropriated them for themselves. Using huge canvases, whose monumental scale threatened the values of the middle classes, because they simply did not ‘fit’ with their world, he showed what T. J. Clark calls ‘the invasion of the rural idyll by usury, class conflict, and expropriation’ (Clark, 1973:116). At the time they were called ‘ugly paintings’ (quoted in Herding, 1991:53). In 1854–55, he produced a painting that is of direct relevance to allegory: The Painter’s Studio: Real Allegory, Summing Up a Phase of Seven Years in my Artistic Life (‘L’Atelier du peintre, allégorie réelle determinant une phase de sept années de ma vie artistique’).

This was a huge canvas (359cm by 598cm) that was rejected by the selection committee of the World Exhibition in Paris in 1855, but became part of a one-man show put on by Courbet in a temporary pavilion during the time of the exhibition. The seven-year period dates back from 1855 to the defeat of the revolutionary impulse of 1848. The composition includes a self-portrait of Courbet seated in profile, but a little away from the viewer, working in his studio in Paris, painting a huge landscape. A naked woman is next to him, positioned behind his back, holding a long white cloth which cascades onto the floor towards the front of the picture. On Courbet’s other side appears a peasant boy, his back to the viewer. Michael Fried points out that the painter is in such proximity to the canvas he is painting that he seems virtually inseparable from it (Fried, 1990:100). There is a white cat between the boy and the woman.

On either side of this central group appear over thirty figures, including the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), a friend of Courbet’s, whose writing we will return to later in this chapter. He is seen reading on the picture’s right-hand side. There are also seen other figures who supported Courbet: the socialist Proudhon (1809–65), Champfleury



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