In the mid-nineteenth Century, great art was still defined as art that took it’s subjects from religion, history or mythology and its style from ancient Greece and Rome. Hardly what we would consider modern and appropriate for an industrial, commercial, urban culture! Courbet agreed, and so did his friend, the writer Charles Baudelaire, who called for an art that would depict, as he called it, the beauty of modern life. Courbet painted the reality of life in the countryside—not the idealized peasants that were the usual fare at the exhibits in Paris. The revolution of 1848, in which both the working class and the middle class played a significant role, set the stage for Realism. Later, Manet and then Degas and the Impressionists painted modern life in Paris, a city which was undergoing rapid modernization in the period after 1855 (the Second Empire).

Honoré Daumier, Rue Transnonain, le 15 Avril 1834, published in La Association Mensuelle”, no. 24, August-September 1834, lithograph, 33.9 x 46.5 cm (Yale University Art Gallery)
Daumier's Rue Transnonain stands alone for its brutal tone and unflinching commentary on a Parisian uprising that had occurred on April 13, 1834.

Daumier, Rue Transnonain

Folies Bergere Poster
You've likely seen this glassy-eyed late 19th Century barmaid before, but what can we make of this painting today?

Better Know: Manet’s Bar

Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas, 130 x 190 cm (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)
Manet decided to replace the idealized female nude with the image of a known prostitute. It didn’t go so well.

Édouard Manet, Olympia

Édouard Manet, Émile Zola, detail
This enigmatic portrait of a celebrated writer and critic does not provide the information we expect from it.

Édouard Manet, Émile Zola

Édouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868-69
This work celebrates the leisurely lifestyle of the urban bourgeoisie, but it also shows its more somber aspects.

Édouard Manet, The Balcony