One of Art History's Famous Nude Models Identified

Gustave Courbet's model believed to have been dancer Constance Queniaux
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2018 8:01 AM CDT
Updated Sep 29, 2018 3:45 PM CDT
A visitor takes a photo of Gustave Courbet's 1866 "The Origin of the World" at Musee d'Orsay museum in Paris.   (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

(Newser) – A French historian says he has inadvertently solved an enduring mystery in the world of art—the identity of Gustave Courbet's nude model in his 1866 painting The Origin of the World. For those unfamiliar, a headline at the Local notes that the painting features "art's most scandalous vagina." For years, the smart money had been on Courbet's Irish lover, Joanna Hiffernan, explains AFP. But historian Claude Schopp found a letter pointing instead to a French ballerina by the name of Constance Queniaux. While studying a copy of a letter from French writer Alexandre Dumas to a friend, Schopp said one line made little sense: “One does not paint the most delicate and the most sonorous interview of Miss Queniault (sic) of the Opera.”

He checked the handwritten original and found a transcription error: "interview" should have been "interior." Schopp connected the dots—Queniaux just happened to be the mistress of the Ottoman diplomat who commissioned the work—and brought his theory to the French National Library. “This testimony from the time leads me to believe with 99% certainty that Courbet’s model was Constance Queniaux,” says the head of the library's prints department. The painting was scandalous in its day, and it ran into trouble with Facebook's censors more recently.

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