1815 - 1879
“The unknown is essential for me. It is why I love my art, which defies prediction… I want to talk about true art, that echo of the soul that never satisfies, that thirst for the infinite…. ” Thomas Couture, Méthode et entretiens d’atelier, (Conversations on Art Methods) p. 277–278, Paris, 1867
Thomas Couture demonstrated a precocious talent for design. An official painter during the July Monarchy and the Second Empire, he was also sought after for his skills as a portrait artist. His art expressed, through allegory, a personal vision of his time. He taught some of the most talented historical painters of his era.
After studying at the École des arts et métiers, then at the École des beaux-arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris, in 1830, Couture trained in the studio of the painter Antoine-Jean Gros. A silver medal winner of the Prix de Rome in 1837, he exhibited at the Paris Salon three years later, earning a medal in 1847 for his painting Les Romains de la décadence (Étude pour « Horace et Lydie », v. 1843) (Romans in the Decadence of the Empire [Study for “Horace and Lydia”, c.1843]). He rose to the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honour the following year and received commissions for murals from the government and clergy.
Art critics proclaimed him as the leader of the juste milieu (middle ground) group, whose goal it was to reconcile romanticism and tradition with realism and modernity. Uncomfortable in this role and disenchanted with the politics of the academic system, he opened an independent studio in 1850 where his pupils included Édouard Manet and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. In 1866, Couture returned to his birthplace of Senlis where he continued to teach mainly American students since his fame had spread as far as the United States. In 1867, Couture published Méthode et entretiens d’atelier, a work on his pictoral technique. He died in 1879 and is interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Born in Senlis, France, 21 December 1815
Died in Villiers-le-Bel, France, 30 March 1879
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