Courbet was one of the OG Realists – he was uninterested in painting anything other than what he could see with his own eyes, basically totally rejecting Romanticism. This wound up scandalizing the art world because often what he saw and therefore depicted were images of real life and poverty and injustice . . . and he put it all out there. It was a tough pill for the art snobs to swallow, seeing unbeautiful things on a canvas. As he said, though: “To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter but a man as well; in short, to create living art – this is my goal.”
This particular piece, in keeping with all of that, is Le Désespéré, or The Desperate Man (1843-45).