PARIS – A French art expert believes he has solved the mystery of the model in a famed 19th-century painting as a result of an art lover’s €1,400 antique shop purchase, which could turn out to be worth €40 million ($54 million).
“The Origin of the World” (1866) by Gustave Courbet depicts a naked woman but does not show her face. It is now at the Orsay Museum in Paris.
Courbet expert Jean-Jacques Fernier said the discovery came after he was contacted by an art collector who in January 2010 purchased an unsigned oil painting in a Paris antique shop showing the face of a woman, and became convinced it showed the woman in Courbet’s work.
Fernier believes that it is indeed the face of the woman in the work, whom he identifies as Jo Higgerman, Irish mistress of artist James Whistler.