The Origin of the World, famous nude by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), was tagged with red paint on Monday May 6. The painting, preserved by the Musée d’Orsay, is currently on display at the Center Pompidou-Metz as part of an exhibition dedicated to one of its most famous owners, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

The work was “protected by glass,” said the museum’s communications department, reporting that the police were on site to carry out analyses.

The “action”, led in particular by the Franco-Luxembourgish performance artist Deborah de Robertis, was called “We do not separate the woman from the artist”, and intended to be part of a “global movement” of “young women artists from all fields,” a lawyer for one of the parties involved in the action told Agence France-Presse. “What used to be allowed, now young people don’t want it anymore,” she continued. “Deborah de Robertis is a great artist who questions us, challenges us, disturbs us,” according to the lawyer.

Arrests took place, we learned from a source close to the artist. When requested, the Metz public prosecutor’s office did not respond immediately.

One of the most famous paintings of the 19th century

A performance by Deborah de Robertis, called Mirror of the Origin of the World, is also exhibited near The Origin of the World, alongside Genital Panic (1969), by Austrian performer Valie Export, or Concept Spatial, Expectations (1958), by the Italian painter Lucio Fontana. We see the artist posing, naked, under Courbet’s work. The performance was illegally carried out on May 29, 2014 at the Musée d’Orsay.

Deborah de Robertis was fined 2,000 euros on Thursday by French courts for appearing naked in 2018 during one of her performances in front of the grotto of the Lourdes sanctuary. She has also been acquitted several times after similar actions, notably in 2017 after showing her genitals at the Louvre Museum in front of the Mona Lisa in Paris.

The Origin of the World is one of the most famous paintings of the 19th century. For a long time it was known only to art historians and connoisseurs, but after Lacan’s death in 1981, his heirs bequeathed it to the State and, in 1995, the painting joined the collections from the Musée d’Orsay.

The work was created in 1866 for Khalil Bey, a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat and collector of erotic paintings (including the Turkish Bath, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres), before changing owners several times.

His model, who remained anonymous for more than one hundred and fifty years, is the dancer Constance Quéniaux, according to a discovery made in 2018 by a great specialist in Alexandre Dumas, Claude Schopp.