Parlaying scandal into success may seem a terribly modern ploy, but Gustave Courbet, the subject of a new retrospective at New York's Metropolitan Museum, mastered the art 150 years ago. Courbet, the realist painter and father of modern art, painted both gorgeous, subtle scenes and uglier, intentionally awkward tableaux. They stand side by side in this "deeply engaging and utterly fascinating retrospective," Ariella Budick writes in Newsday.
Courbet "deployed deliberate awkwardness to steal the attention he flamboyantly craved," says Budick. He repainted mythological scenes not to respect tradition but as excuses to depict naked women. Yet even his more elegant work was never a simple embrace of beauty: "Courbet could paint like an angel when he chose, though he did so only as an odd form of insult to those critics stupid enough to applaud him for it."