By Carter B. Horsley
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was a defiant artist who challenged conventions. His oeuvre defies easy categorization. Although he was an important Realist, he dabbled in many genres and perhaps spread his considerable talents too thinly.
At his best, Courbet is a stunning artist whose few masterpieces are indelible and immensely powerful and quite disparate.
His youthful self-portrait of 1845, "The Desperate Man," is a small oil that measures 17 3/4 by 21 5/8 inches but it is monumental in its impact. It is one of those works that seem to come out of nowhere and with few if any peers. It makes one conjure gigantic sculptures of the inmates at Bedlam - something that Rodin or Michelangelo might attempt. It is frenzy and desperation and immediacy. It begs the viewer for resolution, involvement, commitment.
It is visceral - a quality that can be found in many of his best works.