An art enthusiast may have found the answer to a 150 year old art mystery. The Origin of the World, an infamous painting by Gustave Courbet which shows a close-up of the female genitalia, in graphic detail, has always been a conundrum. It was hidden in the private collection of Khalil Bey, a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat, who later sold it to pay off his gambling debts. The painting was never meant to be seen publicly but it still caused scandal in Paris when it came to market. One critic described it as a “little monstrosity”,others considered far too risqué to exhibit in 19th century France. It would have also broken the law for “affronting public and religious morals”.
After two years detective work which included chemical tests, art historian Jacques Fernier, the official expert on Courbet’s works has agreed to authenticate the portrait. Fernier was initially sceptical when “the owner” brought the painting to him. But after two years of tests and analysis of the canvas and its brushwork he is convinced that ‘Origin’ had been cut into pieces. He was able to align the painting’s panels through grooves in the frame.
Mr Fernier at the Gustave Courbet institute, has written that the work, painted in 1866, is “recognised as by Courbet”, although a third party had restored parts of it badly. He intends to add it to the next edition of his catalogue raisonné the official record of the artist’s works.
The addition of the head means “it loses some of its mystery and some of its charm”, Mr Fernier concluded, saying there must have been a reason for Courbet to cut the head off. It was suggested the move was to protect the model’s reputation. The owner now wishes to reunite the head with the body for the first time in 150 years.