Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Courbet and His Lady Coverin' Ways

At the exhaustive and exciting Courbet exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one is immediately struck by how much of a woman Courbet shows. Even though you knew it was coming, his Origin of the World, a close-up of a hirsute lady-flower, is shocking. Ditto Sleep, a painting of two naked women, who are definitely not asleep though they are sleeping together. But the more interesting part to me was what he covered up about women. In both of the above paintings, The Wounded Man and the posthumous portrait of the Socialist philosophe Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Courbet obscured images of women with a blanket and a work basket, respectively. This we know, or at least I know, from the helpful curatorial texts alongside the paintings. (Hats off to Gary Tinterow abd Kathryn Calley Galitzm the curators in charge of the show.)

In L'homme Blessé, Courbet paints himself sensually on the brink of either sleep or death. It turns out that the wound and the blanket are latecomers to the piece. In the original version, revealed in an x-radiograph, the brown blanket is occupied with the presumably toothsome figure of Virginie Binet, a young lady with whom Courbet was involved. (They were doin' it.) By the time the painting was finished however, the couple was doneski. In the aftermath, he replaced her with a blankie. Kind of sweet. Kind of savvy. By replacing the wounds of war for the hounds of love, Courbet completely changes the theme of the painting into something much more serious. A teacher at Mt. Holyoke recently wrote, the painting "shows a Christ-like figure who has presumably sacrificed his life for a cause. Courbet sacrificed his comfortable bourgeoisie lifestyle to live like a bohemian in Paris." Um, or he is just a fuckin' baby who in a fit of pique threw a blanket over a picture of an ex. Something we've all done before.