Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Creative Arts


Art History

Committee Chair

Rhonda Reymond

Committee Co-Chair

John Bernard Schultz

Committee Member

Janet Snyder


This paper investigates the mythological paintings created by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) in the nineteenth-century, and their connection to Courbet's relationship with the political regime of the French Second Empire. In 1862, Courbet began three variations of one painting, originally titled Study of Women, and shortly after changed to Venus in Jealous Pursuit of Psyche. The mythological context of the paintings was commonly represented in the arts, although the scene Courbet depicted was unusual, and unlike any other. The principles upon which Courbet created his art, which also shaped the concept of Realism, the movement which Courbet started, strongly opposed all representations of fictional or artificial imagery, including mythology, quite the opposite of this scene of goddess and mortal. Given the strict regulations of censorship during the period, the difficult relationship between Courbet and the administration of Napoleon III, and the predilection of the artist for being arrogant and recalcitrant, it seems unlikely that the artist would conform to parameters regarding his art set by a government that he opposed.;Shortly after Courbet's death in 1877, an effort was made to de-politicize the artist's paintings, stripping them of their political and critical connotations and presenting them as purely aesthetic works. Recent scholarship has strayed from this understanding in an effort to discover the artist's embedded political and social criticism. While a number of Courbet's paintings have been reinterpreted as such, little investigation has been completed to reimagine Courbet's erotic nudes as carrying political and social commentary. Through research into the artist's method of employing models, Proudhonian philosophical theories, the social-historical context of the lesbian and homosexuality in the nineteenth-century, and iconography within his paintings, this thesis will provide a reinterpretation of Courbet's paintings of nudes from carnal to critical, and aims to provide a consideration for reinterpretation of the artist's works from aesthetic to allegorical.