Listening to Art

06.11: Gustave Courbet, The Origin of the World

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume six, number eleven: The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

The provenance of this painting is a remarkable story, set out by Laurence des Cars in the catalogue Gustave Courbet. It was painted in 1866 for Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Khalil Bey, who had a large private art collection. He kept it separate from the rest, hidden behind a green veil. It is not known if he sold it in 1868, with the rest of his collection to cover gambling debts, or later. It was next seen in the gallery of Antoine de la Narde in 1889, hidden in a secret cabinet behind another painting. It then seems to have been owned by a scientist named Emile Vial, and after his death was acquired by the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. In 1913 it was sold to one Baron Herzog, a Hungarian collector, who later gave it to his friend Baron Ferenc Havatny.

In February 1945 the painting was stolen by the occupying Soviet Army, but Havatny bought it back from a Russian officer. He took it with him when he left Hungary, and in 1954 sold it to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and his wife Sylvia Bataille. They also kept it concealed behind another painting, but would show it to visitors. Probably one of those was Marcel Duchamp, the greatest artist of the twentieth century, who may have seen it in 1958 when he was secretly working on Étant donnés, which was only seen after his death. Des Cars says, “We may justifiably imagine that, without thinking in terms of direct influence, Courbet’s framing and Lacan’s display held great interest for him.” After Lacan’s death the painting eventually ended up at the Musée d’Orsay in 1995.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 55.4 cm wide by 46.3 cm high.

Now let’s listen to The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet, recorded at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, on 16 July 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

des Cars, Laurence. “187. The Origin of the World.” In Gustave Courbet, by Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Laurence des Cars, Michel Hilaire, Bruno Mottin and Bertrand Tillier, 378–382. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, 2008.

Musée d’Orsay. “Gustave Courbet, The Origin of the World.” Musée d’Orsay.

Nochlin, Linda. “Courbet’s L’origine du monde: The Origin Without an Original.” October 37 (Summer 1986), 76–86.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Gustave Courbet,”

⸻, s.v. “L’Origine du monde,”'Origine_du_monde.