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The Most Arrogant Man in France: Gustave Courbet and the Nineteenth-Century Media Culture


The study of the political, cultural, and socioeconomic conditions that shaped artistic production as well as the examination of visual sources have been highly rewarding in Courbet studies, but these methods have nonetheless reached a point of diminishing returns.1 Leaving aside social art history, Chu's book begins with a brief but significant evocation of the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, whose Rules of Art elaborated an analytic theory of artistic and literary production that depended on the mapping of cultural fields in which individual participants chose from a set of possibilities in order to position themselves within that field.2 To analyze the work of an artist in a Bourdieuian fashion, one must relate every one of his or her choices-say, whether to be a painter or a sculptor, whether to use glazes or paint with a palette knife, whether to paint portraits or genre scenes, whether to participate in the dominant institutions of art or reject those institutions, whether to wear a dandy's suit or a worker's smock-to the range of possibilities available at that particular historical moment.\n12 (Empress Eugnie in particular was by all accounts aware of her husband's philandering and, moreover, was reputed to have cruised the Bois de Bologne for courtesans to entertain visitors such as the Prince of Wales.13) Courbet did not hew to such proprieties; instead, he exploited them: where typical Salon paintings provided an "out" for the female viewer so that she did not have to admit to recognizing sex when she saw it (by clothing nudes in the guise of mythology, for example), the radicality of Courbet's approach (and Edouard Manet's, too) was to dispense with such alternative readings.

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