Courbet in the prison of Saint-Pella

  Gustave Courbet, the name of the 19th-century French painter, has always been surrounded by a halo, and has always attracted the attention and admiration of art lovers. Courbet was the founder of realist painting, who advocated that art should reflect reality and folk suffering, thus declaring war on despotism. During the 72 days that shocked the world, he became a member of the Paris Commune and a representative of the 6th district of Paris, actively engaged in the reform of art institutions and systems, and was quite effective. After the failure of the Paris Commune he was sentenced to prison. “Courbet in the Prison of Saint-Pella” is his self-portrait recalling this period later.
  Although the painter was born into a wealthy family of vineyard owners, his grandfather was a Jacobin in the French Revolution of 1789 and a follower of Voltaire. He grew up listening to his grandfather tell stories of the revolution. This planted the seeds of dissatisfaction with the autocracy and yearning for the republic in his young and pure heart. When the February Revolution of 1848 and the June Revolution launched by the proletariat came, Courbet was also deeply influenced by utopian socialism. Proudhon, the representative of this thought, was his friend. At that time, the painter only supported the revolution, and only published a sketch called “Revolution on the Street Barricades” in the February 1848 issue of “Salute to the Public”. It is an imitation of Delacroix’s famous painting describing the July Revolution in France in 1830, “Liberty Leading the People”. On the scene, holding a gun in one hand and holding a flag in the other, calling for people to move forward. But from the bottom of his heart, he did not approve of such violent struggles. He said: “I don’t believe in fighting with guns and cannons, because it doesn’t fit my principles. I’ve been fighting intellectual warfare. It’s impossible for me to do something else.”
  After the revolution failed, in order to avoid the bloody Massacre and terror, Courbet returned to his hometown of Orleans and created some realistic works reflecting the suffering of the people, objectively reproducing the tragic life of the people under the rule of Napoleon III, through which the painter carried out the so-called “intellectual war”.
  During the Paris World’s Fair in 1855, because the official refused to accept his works, Courbet immediately fought resolutely with him. He built a wooden shed near the World’s Fair, held a personal exhibition of realism, and published a realist manifesto. , expressing its own position. This became a major event in the history of world art. As the painter’s reputation grew, his followers continued to grow, and the imperial crisis intensified, Napoleon I, who had flogged Courbet’s paintings, tried to win him over, trying to buy him a medal of honor. But the painter categorically refused, and claimed: “Honor does not lie in a title, nor in a medal”, “I do not want to have any relationship with the (autocratic) country.”
  In 1870, in order to ease domestic conflicts, Napoleon III launched the The Franco-Prussian War ended in failure. Not content with capturing Napoleon III, the Prussian army began a massive offensive, and France was at stake. In order to resist foreign aggression, Courbet, who has always opposed “shooting and firing”, donated a cannon with the proceeds of selling paintings.
  The Third Republic was established after Napoleon’s defeat. People were worried that the Prussian army would attack Paris and destroy and loot the works of art and cultural relics here. Courbet, with his reputation at home and abroad, was immediately elected president of this body. At this time, the column on the Place Vendôme in Paris (commonly known as the “Column of Vendôme”) became a very politically sensitive issue. It was a celebration column erected by Napoleon I in order to publicize the success of the empire with 1,200 cannons captured from the conquered. One of the great principles – the brutality of fraternity”. Therefore, someone in the committee made an application to remove the column and use it to mint coins. Courbet also signed it, and it was only eight months later that the application was implemented during the Paris Commune.
  After the establishment of the Paris Commune, Courbet was elected as a member of the Commune and Chairman of the Committee of Plastic Arts, and a representative of the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Since then, the painter has been working actively and happily, and has carried out many major reforms. He said: “I get up every day, have breakfast, attend and chair twelve-hour meetings… Paris is a real paradise, not a single policeman, not a single abuse, not a single fraud, not a single quarrel. It’s a real joy.”
  After the failure of the Paris Commune, Thiers shouted the slogan that the members of the Paris Commune should “atone for all their guilt” and massacred. Courbet was convicted of “damaging monuments”, sentenced to six months in prison and fined 50,000 francs. He was then transferred from the Versailles detention center to the Saint-Pella prison in Paris to serve his sentence. After three months, he was released on medical parole until 1872. Released in April. This painting is the painter’s description of himself one year after he was released from prison.
  Outside the window was a scene of late autumn. Courbet was tall, like a trapped beast, imprisoned in a short prison cell. The thick iron fence is clearly visible outside the window. He was sitting alone on a bench against the wall in front of the window. If his reclining body was not supported by that thick hand, it seemed that he would slip off the bench, giving people a feeling of unease. He lowered his head slightly, turned a blind eye to the place in front of him, immersed in the atmosphere of contemplation and memory. Was he reminiscing, summarizing an eventful life, or exploring the reasons for the failure of the Paris Commune? His contemporary Georges Allette wrote of Courbet at the time in a diary: “As soon as he appeared, all The Witnesses of the 1980s were amazed at how much he had changed. His hair was all gray, and he was almost unrecognizable by his obvious morbidity. The realist of the artist did not truly reflect his appearance at that time. In the painting, he still has black hair and short beard, and his body is still strong, but his face shows a hint of sadness. The red color of the scarf on his chest, like fire, was still burning in his heart, showing an unyielding power. If he was given another chance, he would never be waging an “intellectual war”, since the Salon no longer allowed him to exhibit his work.
  After Courbet was released from prison, the authorities still regarded him as the most dangerous enemy, continued to persecute him, and imposed a heavy fine on him in the name of “rebuilding the Vendôme column”. Unable to pay, Courbet fled to Switzerland, where he died of illness in 1877.