Experts say they are ‘99% certain ‘that they have finally discovered the identity of the model who posed for the Gustave Courbet L’origine du Monde (The Origin of the World) scandal (1866). A new book claims that the Dutch area depicted in the painting belongs to the Parisian ballet dancer Constance Queniaux. While historians have long thought that the bare chest and genitals belonged to the lover of the French painter, Irish model Joanna Hiffernan, the dark pubic hair in the painting did not match Hiffernan’s red hair.
The Origin of the World and Scandal
A book published by the French historian Claude Schopp in October claims that the correspondence of Alexandre Dumas’ son provided new revelations. One part of the letters includes the statement: ‘One does not paint the most refined and the most sonorous interview of the Miss Queniault [sic] opera.’ Schopp later realized, after checking through the original papers, that the ‘interview’ had been incorrectly transcribed from the ‘interior’.
Schopp took his findings to Sylvie Aubenas, head of the French National Library’s print department. “This testimony since then has led me to believe with 99% certainty that the Courbet model is the Constance Queniaux,” said Aubenas. He also said that Queniaux’s beautiful black brow descriptions make a better match for the hair color seen in the painting.
The Ottoman diplomat Halil Serif Pasha (Khalil Bey) commissioned the painting for his erotica collection – at the time, Queniaux was Halil’s mistress. Aubenas speculates that the Courbet model’s identity was gradually forgotten as the Queniaux rose to respectable society.
This painting is currently on display at the Musée d’Orsay Paris. Further discoveries emerged to confirm Schopp’s findings. At his death in 1908, Queniaux left behind a painting by Courbet of camellias in his death letter – an art work featuring an open red flower at the center. At the time, camellias were often associated with prostitutes, partly due to Dumas’ book The Lady of the Camellias (1848).