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The Origin of the World

also known as L'origine du monde

Artist: Gustave Courbet
Created: 1866
Dimensions (cm): 55.0 x 46.0
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

The Origin of the World

‘The Origin of the World, or its original French title, ‘L’Origine du Monde’, is an oil on canvas created by Gustave Courbet in 1866. The painting reveals a shockingly close view of the female body, a nude lying on a bed with her legs splayed. The realistic sight and graphic eroticism of the artwork still holds the power to shock and create controversy, even today.

Who is the model?

It is believed that the nude for ‘The Origin of the World’ was Joanna Hiffernan, who was dating a fellow painter and close friend of Gustave Courbet, at the time. Shortly after the painting was finished, the artist and his friend ended their relationship and parted ways.

Analysis and Reviews

A representative of the Musée d’Orsay, where the artwork is currently on display, offers the following comment, “In ‘The Origin of the World’ he (Courbet) went to lengths of daring and frankness, which gave his painting its peculiar fascination. The almost anatomical description of female sex organs is not attenuated by any historical or literary device. Yet thanks to Courbet's great virtuosity and the refinement of his amber colour scheme, the painting escapes pornographic status.”

Gustave Courbet’s words are reflected vividly in his painting, as he stated, “In our so very civilized society, it is necessary for me to live the life of a savage. I must be free even of governments.”

Ownership History

‘The Origin of the World’ was commissioned by Khalil-Bey, and placed for sale in 1868. It was bought by antique dealer Antoine de la Narde. In 1889, it was purchased from an antique shop owner. In 1910, Baron Ferenc Hatvany purchased it at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. The final private owner of the painting was Jacques Lacan. He aqcuired it in 1955, but when Lacan died in 1981, the French Minister of Economy and Finances agreed to a settlement of the family’s inheritance taxes through the transfer of the painting to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. ‘The Origin of the World’ had reached its final resting place, and was displayed in 1995, where it remains today.


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