Let me set the scene for you: it’s 2010 and you’re an amateur art buff looking through a Parisian antique shop. You come across a framed, but unsigned, canvas of a woman’s head thrown back, her shoulders bare. You are intrigued by the painting and pay €1200 for it, but your curiosity won’t rest. You take the painting home and match it against the famous, headless painting by Gustave Courbet called “Origin of the World” (you know the one, it scandalized Paris when he painted it in 1866 so much so that it wasn’t displayed at the Musee D’Orsay until 120 years later), et voila, the grooves of the wood frame matched and so did the painting contours.
It’s at this point that you have a mini heart attack.
Two years later, and after a “battery of spectrographic and chemical tests,” the headless painting is officially “authenticated by Jacques Fernier, the only expert allowed to officially recognise Courbet works,” according to the Telegraph. The antique store find is added to Courbet’s catalog raisonné and is now valued at €35m. THIRTY FIVE MILLION EUROS or 29 thousand times what you bought the painting for. And your discovery has officially changed the known art world.
Of course, there are some critics who doubt its authenticity. Even Fernier himself admits that from an artistic point of view, the discovery isn’t as magical as the story suggests: “(The Origin of the World) loses that kind of marvellous mystery and symbolism from the moment you stick a head on it – that’s why Courbet took it off,” he said. The find has opened the discussion as to whether there are more missing pieces to the painting, hiding in the back of some junk shop somewhere.
You have to wonder: what if there are missing pieces in other famous works? What if there’s an unknown Edvard Munch painting that shows what exactly was so scary on that bridge for someone to scream so much. Or if further down the table from Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, there’s a pair of garden shears and a giant bottle of Absinthe.
A big thank you to Sam for bringing this story to my attention. Thanks, lovely!
(Oh, and as for Valentine’s Day? Boyfriend went Paris-themed on me: he got us tickets to a show the Sunday we’re there, as well as arranged a shopping/ Easter egg hunt through the city! He ordered gifts at Colette, FrenchTrotters, and Zara Home and is having them all held there to be picked up in a few weeks. COME ON.)