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Game of Checkers
Artist Gustave Courbet

The Draughts/Checkers Players

The Draughts/Checkers Players

By artist Gustave Courbet, (Jean-Desiré Gustave Courbet)
lived from 1819 to 1877, near Ornans, France.

Checkers Player Gustave CourbetCheckers Player Gustave Courbet 2

Checkers Player Gustave Courbet Early Self-Portrait

Gustave Courbet Early Self Portrait

  • Artist Gustave Courbet, born in Ornans, France, a rugged area in the Franche-Comté region near the Swiss border and was the foremost realist painter of mid 19th century France.

  • A member of an affluent landowning family, Gustave Courbet remained close to his rural origins and frequently returned to his birthplace, Ornans, in search of subjects that were of interest.

  • Courbet attended Seminary in Ornans from 1831, though he loathed it with a passion so he confessed to every sin imaginable as a form of private rebellion and finally, in 1837, he was sent to study at the Collège Royale in Besançon, where his father hoped that Gustave Courbet would study pre-law.

  • While at Besançon, Courbet also attended courses at the Académie under Charles-Antoine Flageoulot, a former pupil of Jacques-Louis David, a major neo-classical painter; Courbet later wrote, “I went to the Collège de Besançon where I learned to despise teaching…I learned the least I could so as not to burden my head with things useless to me.”

  • Although his father wanted him to study law, Gustave Courbet clearly had other goals and though he moved to Paris in 1840 under the assumption that he would undertake law studies, Courbet defied his father and commenced art studies in ateliers or studios of Charles-Auguste-Guillaume Steuben and Nicolas-Auguste.

  • Gustave Courbet also worked in Suisse’s atelier on the Île de La Cité where there was no instruction or criticism given but students were encouraged through nude life drawing to follow their own stylistic preferences with an abandoned sense of freedom; of course, this method suited Courbet’s learning style, as he preferred not to work under a teacher, feeling that art could not be taught but had to be discovered by the individual artist ~ “the art of painting can only consist of the representation of objects which are visible and tangible for the artist.”

  • During the 1840s, artist Gustave Courbet produced many canvases in a typically romantic style, including figures of sleeping girls and some complacent self-portraits, as well as serene and idyllic landscapes; however, the artist was still very much at odds with the traditional view espoused by the École des Beaux-Arts, which followed the artistic patterns of the idealism of classical serenity.

  • In 1844, artist Courbet created the oil painting, The Draughts Players, (Checkers Players) which presented in a realistic fashion the image of two young men, possibly friends, enjoying the jovial mood surrounding a game of checkers.

  • The game of checkers artist Gustave Courbet, conveyed a friendly, relaxed atmosphere as the setting for the checkers game, noted by the smiling faces of both men, seated at a table in the artist’s studio; though the checkerboard was partially obscured by the shadow of the figure on the right, it was most certainly one of the reasons for their meeting.

  • During the 1840’s Courbet created most of his self portraits and both of these figures in the Checkers Players composition could be viewed as self portraits from that time period as the faces bear a definite resemblance to the artist.

  • The genre Courbet focused on in this scene was a combination of a checkers and friendship theme richly portrayed in deep warm tones of brown and amber, showing the influence of the Spanish painters he had associated with Murillo, Velasquez and Zurburan.

  • Of note was his depiction of the young men’s attire where the figure to the left was shown in contemporary dress and the other in medieval costume, perhaps suggesting a time gone by in his life, such as his youth and a time to come.

  • Courbet’s depiction of the young men enjoying each other’s company at the checkerboard was represented with the touches of realism.

  • His view of artistic realism did not deal with perfection of line or form, but entailed a spontaneous and rough handling of paint on the canvas suggesting the nature of life.

  • Although Gustave’s earlier work reflected a quiet serenity, his themes and style gradually evolved into a form that was neither Romantic nor Neo-classical and he decided that he must break through the classical romanticism because he felt that this style could not truly express his ideas or personality.

  • In 1850, artist Gustave Courbet wrote to a friend and announced that "in our so very civilized society it is necessary for me to live the life of a savage. I must be free even of governments. The people have my sympathies, I must address myself to them directly."

  • From this period on, artist Courbet’s paintings moved away from the more accepted treatment of subject matter and perhaps this was partly a result of his disappointments at exhibitions and the response of critics and the general Parisian bourgeoisie.

  • Courbet’s approach to his artistic release was to attack his canvas in the way he sponged or scraped the paint onto the surface, how he juxtaposed areas that were more or less realistically handled and the manner he framed or arranged his figures and objects in unexpected ways within the composition.

  • During the 1850s and '60s, Courbet was the archetypical bohemian artist of radical political beliefs; Gustave’s non-conformist views began to assert themselves and his rebellious streak appeared in the radical treatment of subject matter, far removed from accepted, traditional views, so much so that the public opinion became one of disdain and disapproval.

  • It was one thing to create artwork that depicted realistic scenes from the gritty streets of Paris, imagery of the desperation of the poor, the rugged nature of certain landscapes and the hard working nature of the peasant, but his commentary was too blunt and far removed from artistic convention and academic norms; much of his artwork, especially his nudes, scandalized the public and viewers would walk away disgusted and upset.

  • ‘The Bathers’ was a clear rejection of the traditional and academic portrayal of nude paintings because artist Gustave Courbet depicted his female bathers in all their voluptuousness, hiding nothing and thus offending the middle class Salon viewers and critics; it was said that Napoleon was so disgusted with ‘The Bathers’ that he hit the canvas with his riding crop and that Guichard, in Les Doctrines de G. Courbet of 1862, said that “The irritation got to the point that the police commissioner of the quarter wanted to drive it out of the Exhibition, as injuring proprieties and manners. Ladies turned away in disgust, grave men shrugged their shoulders, young fellows laughed and were captivated by the young girls’ embarrassment; there was a chorus of condemnation.”

  • The artist was totally dissatisfied with his treatment by art juries, so Gustave took the revolutionary step of constructing pavilions to show his work at his own expense during the world's fairs of 1855 and 1867 and although his massive painting, ‘The Artist's Studio’ was not well received, the popularity of his smaller landscapes, hunting scenes, still life and nudes made him financially secure during the 1860s; he was criticized for his need for self promotion.

  • In 1859, Courbet traveled to Germany and the Normandy coast and soon his subject matter changed to include animal imagery and landscapes involving both land and sea; this new genre awaked from these journeys introduced Gustave to a new and less controversial subject for his work; it allowed his creative faculties to more fully expand beyond the boundaries of his usual imagery; his tone returned to something more akin to the feeling within The Draughts (Checkers) Players from his earlier period.

  • Courbet's republican sympathies led to his involvement in the Paris Commune of 1871 and to his imprisonment following the collapse of the revolutionary government because he was accused of complicity in the destruction of a Paris monument, the Vendôme column; the artist was ordered to pay a huge fine for its reconstruction, but he fled to Switzerland in 1873, either refusing to pay the fine or because his could not afford the astronomical amount.
Gustave Courbet remained in Switzerland for four years, growing weaker each year, afflicted with ill health and unwilling to submit himself to continual doctor’s visits and medicines; he died without ever returning to France, as an exile on December 31, 1877.
  • Courbet was perhaps the first painter of genre subjects to become the acknowledged leader of a major artistic movement and developed the style of Realism by giving everyday scenes a monumental, natural treatment and he helped to break down the traditional hierarchy of subject matter, giving an increased emphasis to purely formal values in painting.

  • Throughout his career, Gustave Courbet attacked the establishment with his candid, unvarnished versions of reality and his particular ‘oeuvre’ or style extended to self portraits, commissioned portraits, landscapes, seascapes, nudes, animals, flower paintings, views of peasants and the simple pleasures of a leisurely game of checkers with a friend.

  • Courbet revealed such a range of imagery that it is surprising he projected his sense of Realism so fluidly and the artist certainly responded with courage to the insolent attacks against his work, choosing not to accept rejection, but instead to find new means of promotion.

  • Artist Gustave Courbet was an innovator in every sense and though unappreciated during the majority of his lifetime, Courbet helped initiate one of the most significant movements of the nineteenth century, which has had continuing resonance in the years after his death, for Gustave Courbet's example had a great influence on the following artistic movement of Impressionism and through the Impressionists, on the imagery and style of 20th century art.
A Game of Checkers in CairoCheckers in 1889
A Game of Checkers, in Cairo (1889).

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DeerLake Online Store Items

Wonder Mugs Play checkers online, and enjoy drinking from this cool wonder mug.
When adding hot liquid, the colors of the mug will change, checkers cool.

Checkers is a two-player game, where one player is assigned white-chip checkers and the other red. The aim is to play checkers online, capture all of the other player's checkers or make them impossible to move.

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