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Origin of the World by Courbet

Gustave Courbet was born in 1819 in Ornans, a small town in Franche-Comté Region. He was the oldest of four children, and the only son. His family belonged to the bourgeoisie. Courbet came to Paris to study law, but quickly decided to become a painter, copying the masters in the Louvre.

In 1848, Courbet had some paintings accepted at the Salon. However, certain other paintings by Courbet were greeted with misunderstanding and caused scandal. He ignored the convention of the academic paintings.

Between 1856 and 1870, he regularly exhibited at the Salon, and orders currently come. He painted a variety of subjects.
He was also provocative by nature, and one of his most provocative painting can be contemplate at Orsay Museum. It was probably ordered by a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat.
He collected paintings dedicated to female body’s celebration, before he was ruined. The painting was put in his bathroom, hidden behind a green curtain, and only a few happy poeple could see it.
This work was painted in 1866, it is an oil on canvas.
Courbet regularly painted female nudes.  But in The Origin of the World the almost anatomical description of female sexual organs is not attenuated by any historical or literary device.

Thanks to Courbet’s great virtuosity and the refinement of his amber color scheme, the painting escapes pornographic status. The audacious, sensual brushstrokes and the use of color recall Venetian paintings. Courbet himself claimed descent from Titian and Veronese.

In the 19th century, with the invention of the photography, pornographic pictures had a great success, even if it was still discreetly spread, also in the workshops! And Courbet was collecting them. The Origin of the World, with its color palette, glorifies the model.

But voyeurism does not disappear. Specialists think Courbet used some photographs for his preparatory work.

What happened to the painting after is not clear – It seems to have been in different private collections – until it joined the collections of Orsay Museum in 1995. It was exhibited for the first time in New York, in November 1988, during Courbet exhibition.

The Origin of the World is displayed now on a wall, like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, alone. But it still raises the troubling question of voyeurism. The visitors are always surprised to discover it as they enter in the room 20.

In 2011, two Facebook accounts have been deactivated after their users posted an image of the masterpiece. Contemporary censorship?

In 2019, the identity of the mysterious woman on the painting was revealed. But it is better to keep the mystery.