Fashion, Class, and Identity in Gustave Courbet's Mme L...

Anna M. Schuer, Case Western Reserve Uniersity

Description

While Gustave Courbet is largely known for creating paintings that foregrounded struggling peasants, such as The Stonebreakers (1849-1850) or Peasants of Flagey on Return from the Market (1850), he also depicted members of the rising bourgeoisie who were attaining higher ranks in the class system through the new industrial and urbanized society. In Mme L… (Laure Borreau) (1863) specifically, Courbet destabilizes class boundaries by portraying Laure Borreau, the owner of a haberdashery shop, and thus a member of the growing bourgeoisie. By depicting her in highly fashionable clothing, Courbet suggests not only her ability to purchase items, which indicates higher class status, but also her role in the industry that creates such items. Moreover, through this lens, it is possible to consider Borreau as a substitute for the artist. Instead of holding a brush and standing next to a canvas to emphasize her artistry, she adorns herself with beautiful clothing. Far more than simply a portrait of a well-dressed woman, Courbet’s portrait of Borreau displays the artist’s revolutionary use of fashion. Borreau’s work in the clothing industry is central to her identity in this painting, as she is able to elevate her status through the fashion that she takes part in creating.

 
Apr 26th, 10:20 AM

Fashion, Class, and Identity in Gustave Courbet's Mme L...

Edwards 102

While Gustave Courbet is largely known for creating paintings that foregrounded struggling peasants, such as The Stonebreakers (1849-1850) or Peasants of Flagey on Return from the Market (1850), he also depicted members of the rising bourgeoisie who were attaining higher ranks in the class system through the new industrial and urbanized society. In Mme L… (Laure Borreau) (1863) specifically, Courbet destabilizes class boundaries by portraying Laure Borreau, the owner of a haberdashery shop, and thus a member of the growing bourgeoisie. By depicting her in highly fashionable clothing, Courbet suggests not only her ability to purchase items, which indicates higher class status, but also her role in the industry that creates such items. Moreover, through this lens, it is possible to consider Borreau as a substitute for the artist. Instead of holding a brush and standing next to a canvas to emphasize her artistry, she adorns herself with beautiful clothing. Far more than simply a portrait of a well-dressed woman, Courbet’s portrait of Borreau displays the artist’s revolutionary use of fashion. Borreau’s work in the clothing industry is central to her identity in this painting, as she is able to elevate her status through the fashion that she takes part in creating.