The relationship between the naked genre and the Second Empire

When Gustave Courbet paints L’origine du monde in 1866, he thinks out of the box. The genre of the naked is very codified: the skin must be smooth, pale et sometimes inspired by the greek antiques and above all hairless.

1866 courbet origine du monde
G. Courbet, L’origine du monde, 1866

L’origine du monde is the opposite. The woman is cropped, the flesh is dense, et she has a hairy sex : it is a realistic piece of art. Khalil-Bey, a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat, commissions Courbet this surprising painting. Away from curious eyes until 1995, it is now at the Orsay museum in Paris.

We can compare it to La femme au perroquet an other wonderful Courbet’s painting. Made the same year, Gustave Courbet in this other painting submits to the rules of the naked genre.

1866,Courbet F au perroquet
G. Courbet, La femme au perroquet, 1866

Nevertheless, it is not the first time that G. Courbet crosses the line. In 1862, he paints Femme nue et couchée sur un fond rouge, again it is a realistic work of art when we can spot some hair.This painting is as shocking as L‘olympia paints by Edouard Manet. The audience is offended by the insistent look of the woman. Edouard Manet paints a courtesan at her workplace. The genre of the prostitute is all the rage at the end of the XIX century.

G. Courbet, Femme nue et couchée sur un fond rouge, 1862

The typical example of the nu genre, which submits to the rules, and respectful of the académique technique is La naissance de Vénus paints by Alexandre Cabanel in 1863.

olympia Manet
E. Manet, L’Olympia

At the Salon of 1863, Venus is the chosen pretext of three painters to paint the nu genre. The mythological theme make them safe. The Alexander Cabanel’s Venus is less shocking than the Olympia whereas L’Olympia hides her private part while the Venus does not.

Why is La naissance de Venus less offending than L’Olympia ?

Cabanel, la naissance de V OK
A. Cabanel, La naissance de Vénus, 1963

First of all, the mythological theme make them safe : he is not showing us a whore contrary to Edouard Manet. Finally Venus does not stare at us.

Nonetheless, if we focus on La naissance de Venus, we can notice , which is very interesting, a highly dose of erotic allusions. Indeed, the putti -little angels- stand in promiscuous position : they are on the verge to touch Venus. She is lying, very sensual, very languid.

It is a fancy courtesan, which is hidden behind the mythological goddess. For some, she is the representation of the Second Empire’s drifts.

pictures : wikipédia, éternels éclairs, panorama de l’art & RMN

It is our coup de coeur.



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