Monday, February 11, 2013

The Origin of "The Origin of the World"

Whistler’s “Symphony in White, Number  1: The White Girl
The 2/9/13 Arts, Briefly column of the Times cited Paris Match as reporting on a unique finding regarding Courbet’s famous and infamous “The Origin of the World” (“The Other Half of ‘The Origin of the World,’" NYT 2/8/13) According to the Times’s recap of the Paris Match story “a collector says he has discovered the top half of Courbet’s portrait.” In passing the Times piece mentions that the painting was “once owned by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.” Along with the notoriety of the painting’s wanton pose, Lacan was also notorious for the precocious way in which he terminated his patient’s sessions. Cutting short sessions would, one thinks, mean that Lacan was able to see more patients in one day than the average Freudian and this delicious tidbit might provide some insight into where all the additional money went. But the discovery of the model’s identity is also good news for lovers of an ideal of feminine beauty that is currently held in low esteem. While a truncated nude might be tantamount to the esthetic advantage of low definition (b&w in film, minimalism in art), the closing of the circle here strengthens a worthy cause. The sitter or spreader who, the Times remarked, was  “thought to have been Joanna Hiffernan, a model and muse not only to Courbet, but also Whistler,” can now can be a spokesman for the pubic hair and a posthumous protestor against Brazilian waxing, anorexic photography and other forms of pedophilia that have infected our culture. Were Anna Magnani, who sported hair in her armpits, still alive, she'd undoubtedly be pleased that the identity of  Courbet's model was uncovered.

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