Monday, June 1, 2009

origin of the world



When Gustave Courbet’s painting “The Origin of the World”(above ) went on permanent display at the Musée d’Orsay in 1995, it was emerging from what must be one of the longest periods of visual quarantine in the history of art. Painted sometime in 1866, for the better part of 130 years it had been cordoned off in private collections, its existence known only to a small group of people, few of whom left any record of the work. Even Courbet, with his swashbuckling disregard for convention, seems for once to have erred on the side of caution. Neither signed nor dated, the picture was never mentioned by him in writing, and it is only on the strength of two small contemporary documents (the report of a dinner at which the painter, never more fulsome than when singing his own praises, likens his little figure to the nudes of Titian and Veronese, and a description by Maxime du Camp so slapdash that one doubts whether he had actually seen the picture with his own eyes) that we can be sure Courbet painted it at all.

Everywhere you turn in the painting’s history, you meet with the same pattern of secrecy and obfuscation. The man thought to have commissioned the picture, a wealthy Turkish-Egyptian diplomat named Khalil Bey, kept it hung behind a green cover in his private dressing room. When Edmond de Goncourt came across it, some twenty-three years later, in 1889, it was concealed by a second Courbet, “Le Château de Blonay”, in a double-bottomed frame. In 1913, it passed into the hands of a Hungarian collector, Baron Ferenc Hatvany, who kept it under lock and key in his town house in Budapest. The last and best-known of the private owners, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, hung it in his workroom at Guitrancourt, where it was again concealed by a sliding panel, painted by his brother-in-law André Masson. The earliest known reproduction, in an obscure gynaecological publication in 1967, in fact depicts a copy, now missing, but thought to have been made by Magritte. In 1988, the painting was shown in public for the first time, at the “Courbet Reconsidered” exhibition in Brooklyn; today, it hangs in the same room at the Musée d’Orsay as Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”.

Which brings me to the other photo above. In fact the little boy (who in a way reminds me of ME) is looking up the dress of a little doll, Why you ask? This is an advertisement which can be seen in the metro at the moment, promoting an art fair which opens this weekend in Paris. So what does the little boy and the doll and the painting above have in common...Well of course its Gutave Courbet, one of the greatest painters ever. Not sure the little boy will see such a fruitful view as the Courbet's painting but you can at least try. Its a very clever advertisement and I suppose if you were not aware of the beautiful painting 'Origin of the world' the advertisement would mean very little.........Thank god for French art education.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to ask today's men feelings about that painting, it has everything women have been taught to hate now : the whiteness of the skin, the roundness of the belly, of that very place where bum touches the thighs,untrimed hair...
This painting is for me the most erotic image I have ever seen.
I remember going to the Musée d'Orsay just for it and the shock I felt was beyond my expectations. It was not(is it still?) displayed right in front of the viewer but oddly enough on a perpendicular wall with not much room to step back, it could not catch from a distance.I felt like the Museum kind of apologised for it and did not provide it a real intimate frame.
Why is it a scandal? I think partly because it looks completly animal and the woman looks fully and confidently abandonned to her lover painter. No doubt they just had sex, it could be a hot summer afternoon, the creased linen sheet feel so fresh on her sweating breasts, you can even imagine she hid her face under the sheet and let her damp hair feel the cool air coming through a window, I can feel what she is feeling...You never come so close to the mistery, you can almost feel its smell in the air...

PHILIP BROOKER said...

a very good entry indeed(no pun intended)

Kim said...

I wonder if the museum hung it without much room to step back to force the viewer's intimacy?

Anonymous said...

Not really, it was odd, may be my souvenirs are blurred, it was many years ago. All I know is it was in an akward place, one could have missed it walking by, maybe they moved it since...But I remember that skin,wow...

Kim said...

I remember seeing this once before--I am not certain where--and I was kind of shocked at the time. Then, seeing it on your blog, again it shocked me. (And I really am not easily shocked--at all.) I feel like it is the white translucence of the almost bruised looking skin, the shock of dark hair, the openness. Feeling like a voyeur. It is completely erotic, and I am almost mesmerized by it. I must have logged on 20 times since you posted it. And Anonymous is right--the skin...

I do wonder what men feel when they look at it.

PHILIP BROOKER said...

kim you are correct in coming back for more...its a wonderful little painting...Im not sure men have the same feeling about it...I love courbets work but for me its not erotic at all but it is beautifully painted......one wonders the story behind the model.....come back again

Anonymous said...

"Beautifully painted", this is NOT a compliment, at least in French!!

Kim said...

I agree--NOT a compliment!