The Vagina Exhibition, Say What?

Gustave Courbet's Origin of the World is one of many.

 

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Odilon Redon, La coquille, 1912 ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
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Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Lost, 1995 ©Jean-Baptiste Mondino
Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Lost (1995). Photo: ©Jean-Baptiste Mondino
Odilon Redon, La coquille, 1912 ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Odilon Redon, La coquille (1912). Photo: ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Gaston Lachaise, Torso (c.1935) ©The Lachaise Foundation
Gaston Lachaise, Torso (c.1935). Photo: ©The Lachaise Foundation
Auguste Rodin, Iris, 1895 ©Tous droits réservés
Auguste Rodin, Iris (1895). Photo: ©Tous droits réservés
Gustave Courbet, L’Origine du monde, 1866 ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Gustave Courbet, L’Origine du monde (1866). Photo: ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Gustave Courbet, Dame verte ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Thierry Le Mage
Gustave Courbet, Dame verte. Photo: ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Thierry Le Mage
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Jupiter et Antiope, 1851 ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Jupiter et Antiope (1851) Photo: ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
André Masson (1896 – 1987) ©Adagp, Paris 2014
André Masson (1896 – 1987). Photo: ©Adagp, Paris 2014
Albrecht Dürer, "Le dessinateur face à une femme allongée," 1538 ©Beaux-Arts de Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image Beaux-arts de Paris
Albrecht Dürer, "Le dessinateur face à une femme allongée" (1538). Photo: ©Beaux-Arts de Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image Beaux-arts de Paris

Auguste Rodin, Albrecht Dürer, Louise Bourgeois – the vagina has inspired artists of all stripes for centuries, but perhaps none more than Gustave Courbet. His Origin of the World (1866), part of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection since 1995, is one of the handful of paintings known globally. It has even been dubbed “Orsay’s Mona Lisa.” A female performance artist enacting the picture at the museum last June only increased its fame.

“Its richness and strength have to be underlined, beyond the provocation, beyond the embarrassment it can cause,” says Guy Cogeval, the president of the d’Orsay and Orangerie museums. “The realism of the line and the framing of the object show not only Courbet’s genius, but, more important, his will to break free from the way things were done in his time and century. His representation of the female genitals, in all their crude, naked truth, aspires to reach the source of desire.”

This summer, the infamous painting left Paris for Courbet’s hometown of Ornans, in the Franche-Comté region. At the Courbet Museum, it is the centerpiece of Cet obscur objet de désir, autour de l’Origine du Monde an ambitious exhibition gathering 70 artworks, dating from the Renaissance to the present day.

While known masterpieces abound—Rodin’s Iris (1895), IngresJupiter and Antiope (1851)—the show showcases many lesser-known gems. There is René Magritte’s fake Origin du Monde, Odilon Redon’s demure seashell, and an unexpected little work on paper by Courbet himself, showing the entrance of a mysterious cavern.

Not surprisingly, Cet obscur objet de désir has proven the Musée Courbet’s most popular exhibition. The show continues until September 1, when the Origin will leave Ornans for Basel’s Beyeler Foundation.


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