L'Origine: The Secret Life of the World's most Erotic Masterpiece by Lilianne Milgrom

Saturday, May 8, 2021




Title: 
 L'Origine: The Secret Life of the World's most Erotic Masterpiece
Author: Lilianne Milgrom
Published: 28 July 2020 (Little French Girl Press)
Pages: 255
Format: Kindle
Read: 05 May 2021
Rating: 
Content: Adult. Google the painting if you don't know what it looks like.
Synopsis: In 1866, maverick French artist Gustave Courbet painted one of the most iconic images in the history of art: a sexually explicit portrait of a woman's exposed genitals. Audaciously titled L'Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), the scandalous painting was kept hidden for a century and a half. Today, it hangs in the world-renowned Orsay Museum in Paris, viewed by millions of visitors a year.
As the first artist authorized by the Orsay Museum to re-create Courbet's The Origin of the World, author Lilianne Milgrom was thrust into the painting's intimate orbit, spending six weeks replicating every fold, crevice, and pubic hair. The experience inspired her to share her story and the painting's riveting clandestine history with readers beyond the confines of the art world.
L'Origine is an entertaining and superbly researched work of historical fiction that traces the true story of the painting's unlikely tale of survival, replete with French revolutionaries, Turkish pashas, and nefarious Nazi captains. But L'Origine is more than a riveting romp through history-it also sheds light on society's complex relationship with the female body.
 


First of all, I have a confession to make. Okay, more than one. 

First Confession: I saw this book one day on Emma over at France Book Tours and it tickled my curiosity. I've requested a copy from Emma and was very happy to receive it. I'm a fast reader and honestly thought I'd be done with it by end of April. But it took me weeks to finish. From my rating, you can see it was definitely not because I didn't like it, I loved it! But for every couple of pages, I first had to Google a bit and chat to my arty friends. 

Second Confession: I only looked at the blurb that Emma send me and never read the Goodreads Blurb, or any of the other reviews. I like to read a book first and make my own opinion before I read other reviews. I therefore didn't realize that the very talented author, Lilianne Milgrom, is really, really extremely talented and she paints with more than words. She is an accomplished painter and she was the very first artist to copy the highly controversial painting in the Orsay Museum. 
"As the first artist authorized by the Orsay Museum to re-create Courbet's The Origin of the World, author Lilianne Milgrom was thrust into the painting's intimate orbit, spending six weeks replicating every fold, crevice, and pubic hair. The experience inspired her to share her story and the painting's riveting clandestine history with readers beyond the confines of the art world."

I strongly suspect that the artist discreetly decided not to use the original painting for her cover art like you will see with so many books on famous paintings. The Girl with the Pearl Earing and The Goldfinch are the first to come to mind. I'm also not going to include a photo for you. Google and Facebook will probably ban me and a few of you might never visit me again. Gustave Courbet painted this painting over 150 years ago and it's obviously still not ready for prime time. It's only a few clicks away on your search engine, so click away if your curiosity is bound to kill your cat. 

I did enjoy this Reddit image and if you know the painting, you can't unsee it. 

L'origine du monde (Gustave Courbet) - Jeanette Hayes Food 2020

I for one at least knew who Courbet was, or no - I didn't. Confession Number 3. I knew some of his less controversial paintings, definitely nothing about the man himself and all the hidden paintings. The 1800's sure was an interesting era and I guess we have to admire the men for their savviness in hiding all the explicit female bodies. It definitely was a bit more difficult to hide these than to hide a Playboy or a  Scope under your mattress. 

Milgrom starts her novel with the origin (clever word-play, don't you think?) and recreates it's history through the hands of it's various owners. Some facts, some speculations, but all so marvelously painted together on the backdrop of true historical events. 

"The first owner of The Origin of the World, who probably commissioned it, was the Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Khalil-Bey (1831-1879). A flamboyant figure in Paris Society in the 1860s, he put together an ephemeral but dazzling collection devoted to the celebration of the female body, before he was ruined by his gambling debts. Exactly what happened to the painting after that is not clear. Until it joined the collections of the Musée d'Orsay in 1995 – by which time it belonged to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan – The Origin of the World epitomised the paradox of a famous painting that is seldom actually seen."

- Musee d'Orsay

This book was one of the best Art History lessons I've ever attended. I Googled the art, the artists and the different time periods for hours. The writing was superb and Lilianne Milgrom's research was well presented with her discerning and artistic eye.  I so wish that this book will be available in South Africa soon so that I can talk about it some more with my artsy friends and those of us who just dream of holding a paintbrush properly. 

About the Author


Paris-born Lilianne Milgrom is an award-winning international artist, writer on the arts and author.
Her art can be found in both private and institutional collections around the world and her articles have been published in
Huffington Post, Daily Art Magazine, Ceramics Now and Bonjour Paris.
Her 5-star, bestselling novel ‘L’Origine‘ is the result of ten years of research and was accepted into the Historical Novel Society.
Lilianne lives in Washington DC with her husband.

Follow the author on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram
Join her mailing list

A big thanks to Emma at France Book Tours for so graciously sending me a copy of this one. I will remember it for a long time!


Mareli 

(I don't think Elza will care for this one as much)


9 comments

  1. I remember Emma talking about this book earlier, and saw the book trailer too. It's really taken a long time to research the whole thing and get more people to know about the painting. That Reddit image really can't be unseen either! 😂
    ~Lex

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    1. Hi Lex! The research was really very well done and I enjoyed this book tremendously. Nope, can't be unseen at all...

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  2. This sounds fascinating and I know nothing about the painting or the artist. I love books about the history of different paintings and I can imagine with the controversial bend with this one the history is fascinating!

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    1. Hi Katherine! I knew about the artist, but not about the painting and yes - my eyes did pop a bit! This was really a good read and I enjoyed it a lot. Sure you will too.

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  3. wow, thanks for your fabulous review. I didn't know that clever re-creation of it!!

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    1. Thanks so much Emma! I really enjoyed the book and writing the review. Thanks again for providing me a copy of this one. It will linger for a long time.

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