When I was in Paris last year, I visited the Museé D’Orsay. Among my favorite artists is Gustave Courbet, and the D’Orsay has two epic paintings “The Artist’s Studio” and “A Burial at Ornas.” However, one of the most stunning pieces of 18th-century French art, in fact it is stunning in any era, is “L’Origine du monde” (“The Origin of the World”), from 1866.
The image is superb in its technique which can be argued to transcend the pornographic. Yet it is also voyeuristic. The image was also banned as Facebook profile for violating its nudity policy. An article on Artsy.com states, “Instead of idealizing his subjects like his Romanticist contemporaries, (Courbet) dedicated himself to showing things as they are, bluntly addressing themes like rural poverty, as in “The Stone Breakers” (1849), and human sexuality; his erotically portrayed nudes were received with scandal and even police attention.
It was commissioned by the Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Khalil-Bey, a flamboyant socialite who assembled large collection of erotica. But the question of the model’s identity has, until now, remained a mystery.
Does the model’s identity change the painting in any way? No. Like any other painting, its power is in the image alone. Whether the viewer likes the piece or not, whether the viewer is offended or not, is up to the viewer herself.
That’s the nature of art. Ultimately, “why” is not important. The work exists in the eyes of the viewer, And whatever opinion is formed in necessarily right because it is right for them.