Thomas Couture

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Thomas Couture

70 artworks

French Academic Classical painter, teacher, history painter and portraitist

Born 12/21/1815 - Died 3/30/1879

Born in Senlis (Oise, Picardy, France)

Died in Villiers-le-Bel (Val-d'Oise, Ile-de-France, France)

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Soap Bubbles

Oil on canvas

130.8 x 98.1 cms | 51 1/4 x 38 1/2 ins

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, United States


The Romans of the Decadence


Oil on canvas

466 x 773 cms | 183 1/4 x 304 1/4 ins

Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Credit: Visipix: 500,000+ hi-res image

A Realist

Oil on canvas

Public collection, ,

Credit: Brian Shapiro

A Widow

Oil on canvas

Private collection, ,

Credit: Brian Shapiro

Female Head

Oil on canvas

54.9 x 52.1 cms | 21 1/2 x 20 1/2 ins

Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, United States


Jules Michelet

Oil on canvas

Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France

Credit: Brian Shapiro

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THOMAS COUTURE (1815-1879) was an influential French history painter and teacher.

He was born at Senlis Oise, France and at age 11, Thomas Couture's family moved to Paris where he would study at the industrial arts school (École des Arts et Métiers) and later at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He failed the prestigious Prix de Rome competition at the École six times, but he felt the problem was with the École, not himself. Couture finally did win the prize in 1837.

In 1840, he began exhibiting historical and genre pictures at the Paris Salon, earning several medals for his works, in particular for his 1847 masterpiece, Romans in the Decadence of the Empire, now in the Luxembourg. Shortly after his this success, Couture opened an independent atelier meant to challenge the Ecole des Beaux-Arts by turning out the best new history painters.

Couture's innovative technique gained much attention and he received Government and Church commissions for murals during the late 1840s through the 1850s, and obtained several medals. However, he never completed the first two commissions, while the third met with mixed criticism. Upset by the unfavorable reception of his murals, in 1860 he left Paris for a time returning to his hometown of Senlis where he continued to teach young artists who came to him. In 1867 he thumbed his nose at the academic establishment by publishing a book on his own ideas and working methods.

During his lifetime, Couture taught such later luminaries of the art world as Edouard Manet, Henri Fantin-Latour, and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Asked by a publisher to do an autobiography, Thomas Couture responded with words that are even more appropriate today: "Biography is the exaltation of personality --- and personality is the scourge of our time."

Thomas Couture died at Villiers-le-Bel, Île-de-France and was interred in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

  • Entries on the artist in the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Wikipedia.