James Abbott McNeil Whistler, “A Symphony in White No. 1. A Girl in White. Portrait of Joanna Hiffernan "(1862). National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gustave Courbet created The Origin of the World in 1866 by order of a Turkish diplomat and collector Khalil Bey, who collected erotic paintings. For decades, art historians have been convinced that the artist has written a half-naked torso and thighs with his mistress, the model of Irish descent Joanna (Joe) Hiffernan. She also posed for other works of Courbet, including “Beautiful Irish” and “Sleepers” (the latter also ordered Khalil Bey). At the same time, Joe had a romantic relationship with a friend and colleague of the French painter - American James Whistler.
However, the theory about the personality of the model was cast into doubt - mainly because the dark hair in the Courbet picture does not correspond to the glowing red curls of Hiffernan.
French historian Claude Shopp discovered a connection with Kenyo when he looked through copies of Dumas’s letters for his book. He was puzzled by one specific sentence: "It was not necessary to portray the most delicate and loudest [interview] Mademoiselle Kenyou of the Opera." And only when the scientist checked the handwritten original, he realized that an error had occurred in his transcription. The word "interview" was actually "interior", that is, the writer meant the "inside" of the dancer.The origin of the worldGustave Courbet1866, 46 × 55 cm Schopp shared his discovery with the head of the engraving department of the French National Library, Sylvie Aubin, who agreed that the model was Constance Kenyo. At that time, the ballerina was 34 years old, and, having left Opera, she fought for the attention of Khalil Bey with the famous courtesan Marie-Anne Deturbe (or, as she was called, Jeanne de Turbé). She kept a popular salon, and after marriage she became the Countess de Loine. Some thought that it was she who posed for the "Origin of the World." But Aubin says that the descriptions of “beautiful black eyebrows” Kenyo are more consistent with the hair in the picture.
Left: Constance Kenyo in 1861. Photo Nadar, source - Wikipedia
Aubenu believes that the secret of the personality of the model was known to a narrow circle of initiates, but over time was forgotten, as Kenyo became a respectable lady, known for her charity.
There is one more indirect argument confirming Shopp’s conjecture. According to Aubin, after his death in 1908, Constance Kenyou bequeathed a picture of camellias to Gustave Courbet, in the center of which is a magnificently blooming red flower. At that time, camellias were associated with courtesans, thanks to Dumas' novel The Lady with Camellias, which formed the basis of Verdi's opera La Traviata. Aubin believes that this painting was a gift from the artist Constance and his patron Halil Bey.
In 1955, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan purchased the painting for his country house. But even there it was hidden in a special way - behind the landscape, which was specially written by André Masson, Lacan's half-brother. This landscape is completely repeated contours on the canvas Courbet and also called "The Origin of the World." Since 1995, the work has been included in the collection of the Orsay Museum in Paris.Andre Masson, camouflage panel for The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet (1955). The Courbet Museum in Ornans. Read also: A Forgotten Picture by Gustave Courbet Found in the Provincial French Museum
The cover of the French weekly magazine Paris Match dated February 7, 2013, which reported on the discovery of the "head" of "The Origin of the World"
In 2013, a French amateur collector announced that he had found a portrait in one of the antique shops that could be part of the Courbet painting. The discoverer suggested that the artist cut off this fragment of the canvas, not wanting to compromise his model. However, the curators of the Orsay Museum indicated that the canvas from their collection has a standard size of 46 by 55 cm for that time, and the position of the head on the found picture does not correspond to the body pose on the Origin of the World.
Based on The Guardian. Main illustration: Gettoimage.Co