|L'Origine by Lilianne Milgrom|
L’Origine: The Secret Life Of The World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece by Lilianne Milgrom(historical fiction) Release date: July 28, 2020 at Little French Girl Press 255 pages
2020 Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion Award***
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The first part of this book is the personal journey of the author, an artist from Washington, who having reached the status of ‘woman of a certain age’, making her acutely aware of the aging process, feels she needs to do something about it. With her husband often working away from home and their children now adults, she runs to Paris, to paint. It is only when she arrives, and takes a look around the Musée d’Orsay, that she realises what it is she is going to paint; Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde.
I’m no art expert, so I had to look it up, and can appreciate that in its day (1866) its explicitness of the female form, wouldn’t have been for all eyes. From her daily visits to the museum, in her new role as official copyist of this piece, Lilianne, studies its every brush stroke as she attempts to reproduce her own version, often under the scrutiny of the visiting public. She feels the power of the painting as she watches the varying reactions it produces and arrives at the end of her six weeks a different person.
The second part of the book is a work of historical fiction that adds the backstory from first sketch to finished work, and then from art lover, dealer and collector, as L’Origine quietly makes its almost secret journey. Lilianne takes us back to Courbet’s studio, his muse, his lovers and his life dedicated to pushing rules and boundaries. It is known that the first owner of this privately commissioned piece was a Turkish/Egyptian diplomat called Khalil-Bey, who spent his time in Paris during the 1860’s collecting fine art and gambling his family fortunes away, but it’s journey during the 20th Century is less well-known. Lilianne has done her research to uncover its owners and their secrets up to when it was acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in 1995.
As Lilianne cleverly dips in and out of European history, culture and the troubled periods, we follow those involved and get to rub shoulders with famous names in art and literature whose paths crossed with the painting or its many owners. We see the power it has over relationships and the trouble it causes, but also the pleasure it brings too.
Her passion for this piece and its story soon had me fascinated, even though it was a work of art that I’d not previously heard of. I was intrigued by its owners, their society lifestyles and the changing attitudes to the painting.
This book certainly paints a colourful picture of a special work of art and opened my eyes to periods of art, history and culture I was unaware of.