The modern artist strives to be independent of the public's taste--and yet depends on the public for a living. Petra Chu argues that the French Realist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) understood this dilemma perhaps better than any painter before him. In The Most Arrogant Man in France, the first comprehensive reinterpretation of Courbet in a generation, Chu tells the fascinating story of how, in the initial age of mass media and popular high art, this important artist managed to achieve an unprecedented measure of artistic and financial independence by promoting his work and himself through the popular press.
The Courbet who emerges in Chu's account is a sophisticated artist and entrepreneur who understood that the modern artist must sell--and not only make--his art. Responding to this reality, Courbet found new ways to "package," exhibit, and publicize his work and himself. Chu shows that Courbet was one of the first artists to recognize and take advantage of the publicity potential of newspapers, using them to create acceptance of his work and to spread an image of himself as a radical outsider. Courbet introduced the independent show by displaying his art in popular venues outside the Salon, and he courted new audiences, including women.
And for a time Courbet succeeded, achieving a rare freedom for a nineteenth-century French artist. If his strategy eventually backfired and he was forced into exile, his pioneering vision of the artist's career in the modern world nevertheless makes him an intriguing forerunner to all later media-savvy artists.
"Chu details the rise, the fall, and the tireless machinations of art's first recognizably modern careerist.... In Chu's telling, Courbet seems to have done nothing without an eye to the main chance. He took pains to advertise his prominence in republican literary and artistic circles--the distinguished as well as the delectably louche. He made much of knowing the celebrated anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon ('Property is theft!'), upon whose death, in 1865, he made a nostalgic portrait that was not only splendid but pantingly opportunistic.... Chu's most original analysis of Courbet's reputation in his day concerns its mixed effects on a newly 'bi-gendered' public."--Peter Schjeldahl, New Yorker
"Will surely become essential for all future Courbet studies...The title of Chu's book is self-explanatory, but in the exploration of her theme, she inevitably casts light on the artist's character."--John Golding, New York Review of Books
"[Chu's] enjoyable account shows how little we know about Courbet's intentions and procedures....[Her] richly illustrated study suggests a mind whose curious complexities were expressed only in paint."--Graham Robb, Times Literary Supplement
"In this insightful book, Chu (who edited and translated Gustave Courbet's letters) examines how the painter (1819-1877) used the press to market his work. . . . Chu's brilliant study of Courbet's paintings and marketing strategies sheds much light on his work and the artistic milieu of the 19th century."--Publishers Weekly
"A study of how Courbet wisely perceived himself to be witnessing new technologies that could, if properly integrated and exploited, further rather than threaten his vision."--George Fetherling, Seven Oaks Magazine
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Courbet and the Press 5
Chapter 2: Posing 17
Chapter 3: Courbet's Pantheon 45
Chapter 4: Salon Rhetoric 75
Chapter 5: Bisextuality 114
Chapter 6: Packaging and Marketing Nature 138
Photography Credits 229