Scandal has never been far from Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde, one of the most provocative works of art history depicting a naked woman’s genitalia and torso.
Now a French scholar may have solved the mystery of whose body was painted so explicitly in his 1866 work, not exhibited publicly in France till 1991.
The subject of Courbet’s work was for years assumed to be his Irish lover.
But the woman now thought to be in the picture is dancer Constance Queniaux.
French literary expert Claude Schopp stumbled on his discovery as he went through correspondence between two writers, George Sand and the son of Alexandre Dumas.
Queniaux had retired as a ballet dancer at the Paris Opera in 1859 and aged 34 she was a mistress of Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Halil Sherif Pasha.
在巴黎歌剧院担任芭蕾舞演员的Queniaux于1859年退休，34岁时她成为土耳其 - 埃及外交官Halil Sherif Pasha的情妇。
In later years she became a woman of some means, given to philanthropic work.
The diplomat who commissioned L’Origine du Monde, who was known as Khalil Bey, kept Courbet’s painting in his dressing room behind a green curtain, revealing the work to visitors and dinner party guests.
The former dancer is mentioned in one letter from Dumas. Not only is her name badly spelt but a word was wrongly transcribed in the following line: "One does not paint the most delicate and the most sonorous interview of Miss Queniault of the Opera."
Schopp was puzzled by the word interview, so he consulted the original manuscript in the National Library of France dating back to June 1871 and found the error.
Dumas had written of Ms Queniaux’s delicate and sonorous "interior" rather than interview, leading Schopp to deduce that Dumas was writing about the painting.
And that was not all. Having shared his discovery with Sylvie Aubenas at the library, she was convinced he was right.
When Ms Queniaux died in 1908 she bequeathed a painting by Courbet of a bouquet of spring flowers and red and white camellias.
Camellias were the flowers most closely identified with courtesans, and Aubenas told AFP news agency she believed the painting was a gift from Courbet and his Ottoman patron.
The Courbet painting is still considered so risqué that Facebook shut down a French teacher’s account when he posted a picture of it.