Gustave Courbet, born on June 10, 1819, in Ornans, France, was a French painter who led the Realism movement in 19th-century French painting. Committed to painting only what he could see, he rejected academic convention and the Romanticism of the previous generation of visual artists. His independence set an example that was important to later artists, such as the Impressionists and the Cubists. Courbet’s paintings of the late 1840s and early 1850s brought him his first recognition. They challenged convention by depicting unidealized peasants and workers, often on a grand scale traditionally reserved for paintings of religious or historical subjects. Courbet’s subsequent paintings were mostly of a less overtly political character: landscapes, seascapes, hunting scenes, nudes, and still lifes. Courbet, a socialist, was active in the political developments of France. He was imprisoned for six months in 1871 for his involvement with the Paris Commune and lived in exile in Switzerland from 1873 until his death four years later.

Courbet had an enormous impact on the course of art history. His unusual approach to painting—the focus on imperfections and the reality of the common people—influenced many later artists. As the standard-bearer of a new “realism,” which he defined as the representation of familiar things as they are, he would become one of the most innovative and influential painters of mid-19th-century France. His dedication to the portrayal of ordinary life would decisively shape the sensibilities of Manet, Monet, and Renoir a generation later.