Best known as an innovator in Realism (and credited with coining the term), Courbet was a painter of figurative compositions, landscapes and seascapes. He also worked with social issues, and addressed peasantry and the grave working conditions of the poor. His work belonged neither to the predominant Romantic nor Neoclassical schools. Rather, Courbet believed the Realist artist's mission was the pursuit of truth, which would help erase social contradictions and imbalances.
In the 1860's Courbet was more interested in the erotic elements of art than the political ones that were prevalent in his work. His paintings became increasingly daring, each painting slightly more extreme than its predecessor, culminating in the famous (and most beautiful) "L'Origine du Monde" ("The Origin of the World") which depicts the feminine genitalia in all its glory. As always in the case of erotic works, in spite of causing a furore and being banned from public display, this never did anything to diminish their great popularity...privately.