Artist: Gustave Courbet (1819 - 1977)
Confronting Bodies: The French Salon
Date of Action: 1853
Description of Artwork: In The Bathers a rather fat woman is seen from behind stepping out of a small pool, stark naked except for a thin cloth that covers her lower buttocks. She makes a gesture towards her maid, who is sitting on the ground taking her shoes and stockings off. The maid is looking at the woman, but it is unclear what they might be thinking or saying to each other. People objected to its vulgarity and pointlessness. The nudes in paintings of this time were always graceful, classical figures. The nude in The Bathers is a more realistic representation of the female body, and thus more crude. The subject of a nude bather with her clothed companion was common at the time, but usually there was some sort of biblical or mythological narrative being told. Courbet's painting had no narrative.
The Incident: As soon as the painting was exhibited it excited much controversy. The Salon was forced to accept the painting because in 1848 he had won a medal and was exempt from the selection process. The thin veil covering the bather's lower buttocks seems to be an attempt by Courbet at avoiding controversy, as it looks like it was painted on after. The painting was called "dirt" and condemned as being subversive. The bather was described as a piece of meat on a butcher block and the stark contrast between the lights and the darks in the painting gave his critics reason to call the painting sooty.
Results of Incident: Many of Courbet's paintings would be censored in years to come and a few were even destroyed.
Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia