The title ‘realist’ has been imposed on me in the same way as the title ‘romantic’ was imposed on the men of 1830. Titles have never given the right idea of things; if they did, works would be unnecessary.
Without going into the question as to the rightness or wrongness of a label which, let us hope, no one is expected to understand fully, I would only offer a few words of explanation which may avert misconception.
I have studied the art of the ancients and moderns without any dogmatic or preconceived ideas. I have not tried to imitate the former or to copy the latter, nor have I addressed myself to the pointless objective of ‘art for art’s sake’. No – all I have tried to do is derive, from a complete knowledge of tradition, a reasoned sense of my own independence and individuality.
To achieve skill through knowledge – that has been my purpose. To record the manners, ideas and aspect of the age as I myself saw them – to be a man as well as a painter, in short to create living art – that is my aim.
Gustav Courbet (1855)