The modern artist strives to be independent of the public's taste--and yet depends on the public for a living.
Petra Chu argues that the French Realist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) understood this dilemma perhaps better than any painter before him.
In The Most Arrogant Man in France, the first comprehensive reinterpretation of Courbet in a generation, Chu tells the fascinating story of how, in the initial age of mass media and popular high art, this important artist managed to achieve an unprecedented measure of artistic and financial independence by promoting his work and himself through the popular press.
The Courbet who emerges in Chu's account is a sophisticated artist and entrepreneur who understood that the modern artist must sell--and not only make--his art.
Responding to this reality, Courbet found new ways to "package," exhibit, and publicize his work and himself.
Chu shows that Courbet was one of the first artists to recognize and take advantage of the publicity potential of newspapers, using them to create acceptance of his work and to spread an image of himself as a radical outsider. Courbet introduced the independent show by displaying his art in popular venues outside the Salon, and he courted new audiences, including women. And for a time Courbet succeeded, achieving a rare freedom for a nineteenth-century French artist.
If his strategy eventually backfired and he was forced into exile, his pioneering vision of the artist's career in the modern world nevertheless makes him an intriguing forerunner to all later media-savvy artists.