Self Portrait with Black Dog

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Gustave Courbet, Self Portrait with Black Dog, 1842
By SAI GONDI

Gustave Courbet, a pioneer of the Realism movement, produced numerous stunning works throughout the mid 19th century. He grew up in an established family amid the rural lands of Doubs, France. Courbet spent much of his later life in Paris, though he constantly returned to Doubs for its beautiful landscapes and inspiration. He thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors, which resonates in his art. Scenery and nature are common subjects for his works, as well as self portraits. Courbet painted numerous self portraits including El Desperado, one his most famous works. 

Self Portrait with Black Dog depicts himself hiking back through his homeland of Doubs. He painted this during his younger days in 1842. The image incorporates two major components of Courbet's life: his origins and the present. First, his past, which shows through the sliver of land in the distance on the right-hand side. The composition places the majority of attention on Courbet and his dog, but in the distance there lies a forest landscape. The symbolism behind this stems from Doubs, his boyhood home. He grew up in rural, farm lands in contrast to the busy, developed Paris. The reason Courbet placed the section of scenery in the distance could be because that portion of his life was in the past. It adds a unique and symbolic element to the composition, though the main focus lies in the front, which shows Courbet's present state. 

The formal garments he has on contrast his humble past. He depicts himself as such to demonstrate his current elite social status. The black he wears and the darkness of the dog help center attention onto him contrasting the light with the somber hues of tan and blue that encompass him. The book beside him has unknown contents, but it clearly shows Courbet's intelligence or lust for knowledge. Also, the pipe in his hand helps further stratify his social status. 

Courbet paints this image beautifully, using colors which help exemplify him in the middle. He possesses an aura of swagger with his posture and demeanor. His flowing hair and stern look help project him as one cool, intellectual dude, but they also make him somewhat resemble the dog. Courbet and the dog create a strange composition. They create a square or trapezoidal shape when you trace around them, which is uncommon in comparison to triangle or circle compositions. Courbet implements unique elements to help outline his life, incorporating the current and the past. All around, I found this to be his best self portrait out of the many he did.

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