After Caravaggio and Leonardo, Courbet

Proposal for Reassembling the Painting of Which
L’Origine du Monde Might Be a Fragment...
Matthias Petit’s Illustration for Paris-Match (7/2/13)

7/2/13 - False scoop - Once again, an extraordinary "rediscovery" of an art work is creating sensational headlines and is spreading like wildfire in the media which has decidedly still not learned its lesson. The joke here is that the real findings, that of a sublime Bronzino at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice and that of a Zurbarán in a small church in Normandy (see news item, in French), to mention only two recent examples, never give rise to similar goings-on.

This time, the buzz is about Courbet. As easily read everywhere around us, Paris Match is publishing a "worldwide" (what else ?) exclusive : a painting bought for 1,400€ by an amateur would appear to represent the head of the woman in L’Origine du Monde, thus a part of a larger canvas which was cut off. We leave you to read the intriguing details of this "investigation" here or here. And we then refer you to André Gunthert’s article on his blog L’Atelier des Icônes to read the first and one of the rare, along with Slate, accounts expressing more than a little doubt at these claims. The visual setup obviously does not work and André Gunthert clearly explains why : "Too bad that the movement of the bust, turned to the left, or that of the drapery look incompatible with the position of the young woman in the portrait. Too bad that the pose suggested by the sketch in [Paris] Match is so inane as to make it difficult to reconcile with Courbet’s style as well as with the realism of L’Origine...".

Yes, it is "too bad" just like it is also "too bad" that the curators at the Musée d’Orsay, no doubt terrified by the issue at stake, knowing fully well that this is a tainted scoop, do not want to say it out loud ingenuously claiming that they are held by "a duty of confidentiality as it concerns works in private hands" [1]. This however, does not prevent them from spending their time - fortunately so we believe - publishing or exhibiting works from private collections and we might ask ourselves what would become of art history if this principle were actually applied.
And it is really "too bad" that an acknowledged (for once) expert of the artist should act in such a flighty way.

No matter how we compare "the spread of the brush bristles, the length of the brush strokes [sic]", none of it provides proof ; we must first take a good look. This head of a woman has nothing to do, in all fairness, with L’Origine du Monde, but which does not stop Paris-Match from evaluating it today (in the affirmative, not in the conditional) at 40 million euros... "When speaking of art, the most far-fetched theories are not always necessarily the best ones" adds the article. They took the words right out of our mouth.

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 10 février 2013


[1] Taken from an AFP dispatch.

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