No biographer could ask for a more colorful or difficult subject than the painter and revolutionary Gustave Courbet. One of the fathers of Realism, a style he created with his huge canvases of his birthplace in Ornans (After Dinner at Ornans, 1949; Funeral at Ornans, 1850, and The Stonebreakers, 1850), Courbet chose his subjects from ordinary life and portrayed them with the same monumental dignity as the great men of history. A man with big appetites for life, women, and politics, he frequently found himself at odds with French authorities, especially during the period of the Commune when he and his friends pulled down the Vendome Column. Impressionism and Modernism would be unthinkable without his fierce opposition to the academies of art. This biography by one of the most reliable students of French art paints a large and fascinating canvas, which Courbet dominates but never overwhelms.

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