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Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris Semestre d’automne 2011-2012 2ème année de Collège Universitaire
Written presentation: Abstract L’origine du monde. Courbet, 1866
L’Origine du monde is an oil painting realized by Courbet in 1866. It may be the most controversial piece of art that the famous artist has ever presented. Consisting of a 46x55 centimeters close up on a woman’s genitals, the picture makes all the conventions shatter and gets any audience uncomfortable. This essay first explores the historical trajectory of L’Origine du monde, from its origins to its rediscovery since 1995. The painting results from Courbet’s imaginary as well as a precise historical context: the era of the Second Empire was indeed characterized by its interest for nude and erotic painting, what encouraged Courbet to revitalize in his realistic manner this kind of practicing art. Considered as scandalous, the picture has remained hidden during almost one century until its being given to the Orsay Museum, which the piece of art enters on the 26th June 1995. Turning to a more precise analysis of the painting, the essay then emphasizes its ambiguity: although the aim of the painter was to represent the reality of a woman body, trying to reach objectiveness, there is also a will to make the audience react, mind about his relation to nudity. Therefore, the paper leans upon the taxonomy of nudity vs. nakedness1 in order to understand the peculiar subject of this painting. The last issue the paper deals with is the question of genders in L’Origine du monde. Lots of artists have included the Courbet’s painting in their artwork. A case in point of this broad reinterpretation is Orlan’s photograph entitled War’s Origin: Orlan took the same disposition up for its picture as Courbet’s one but represented a man’s genitals instead. By the play on words between both titles, she makes L’Origine du monde enter the gender debate, using nudity as a weapon and genitals as witnesses.
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