Courbet “The Stone Breakers”

In Marx and Engles 1848 The Communist Manifesto, Marx claims:

          In effect, Marx is likening the human workforce to the machines that they operate. After reading this, the image of Gustave Courbet’s realist painting “The Stone Breakers” which was done from 1849-1850 came to mind. Although Courbet was a socialist and looked up to Proudhon as a mentor (who Marx opposed), there is no denying that there is a similar message in The Stonebreakers to the above excerpt from The Communist Manifesto. While used to seeing painting relating to a particular revolution and what not, this has perhaps been the first instance where I have actually recognized a political theory versus a political event being exemplified in a painting.

          The Stonebreakers depicts two men, one old, one young (commonly believed to be father and son) doing some of the lowliest work of the time: doing road work and breaking stones. Courbet and the Realist movement went against the norm and the wishes of the bourgeoisie and instead tried to represent le peuple; the people in their real element. Their clothes are ragged, their faces hidden, and their bodies stiff. The fact that their faces are hidden gives a sense of anonymity to the workers.
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