Courbet Funeral at Ornans
In this huge painting, Courbet depicts the funeral scene of an ordinary citizen of the village. The open
grave at the center front of the painting is surrounded by a great S-curve of pallbearers, priest and altar
boys, gravedigger, family and friends in mourning. The composition is, in many ways, classical, yet the
subject matter — the burial of an unknown villager –is starkly different from the grandiloquent depictions of
famous historical events or wealthy, powerful people so common in contemporary 19 painting.
This deliberate and radical choice of subject is also reflected in the title of the painting, which only
locates the burial by town and not person.
The grouping of mourners and attendants follows the horizon or distant cliffs –no one ‘s head extends into
the sky. Only the crucifix, held by a religious attendant, is outlined by the muted tones of the sky. The
earthbound nature of life is thus emphasized, as the figures are framed by dirt and rock.
Courbet instills the human touch into his painting. An altar boy gazes with a look of innocence up at a
pall bearer. A young girl peers around the skirts of her elders. Several grief – stricken women clutch
handkerchiefs to their faces.
Courbet was a member and co- founder of the realism school of painting. His painting, The Stone Cutters, of laborers breaking stone by the side of a road, caused an uproar when it was exhibited.
Likewise, in A Burial at Ornans, Courbet dramatically declares the importance and dignity of an
ordinary life and death.
Born in Ornans, Courbet was a farmer ‘s son whose art and philosophy gained popularity during his
lifetime. He became one of the most influential mid – 19 French painters.
Location of Original
Mus'e d’Orsay, Paris
Hartt, F. Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture New York: Harry N. Abrams (1976) p. 353.