Gustave Courbet, “The Desperate Man”, 1844-45, Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection
Gustave Courbet, a French Realist painter, strived to be independent from the public’s taste and constantly challenged convention by his emphatically realistic renderings of scenes from the daily life. Courbet was not depicting beauty using graceful poses and impressive colors; he was depicting truth. This uncompromising artistic sincerity made him stand out from all other artists working at that time in Paris and often forced him to exhibit his work independently from the Salon.
“The Desperate Man” is among the earliest works by the artist that he completed in 1845. With his eyes wide-open, Courbet is staring straight at you and tearing his hair. Popular at the time, the Romantic approach to portraiture was concerned with expressing emotional and psychological states of the individual. However, Courbet is seldom recognized as being connected to the themes and ideologies of the Romantics, who enjoyed the apex of their success around the time of Courbet’s birth in 1819.
Courbet found his career in a transitional period that saw Romanticism coming to a close and subsequently, the birth of realism and modernism in European visual culture. “The Desperate Man’ was produced at the apex of the artist’s melancholy and Romantic disillusionment. It proved to be a key work in his life, and it remained in his studio until his death in 1877.