Hermosa Mujer

“Spanish Woman” by Gustave Courbet @ Philadelphia Museum of Art

A running theme in the many, many galleries within the halls of the two Philadelphia art museums we visited, was the way the public — in particular the art critics — of the time responded to art that broke the then-current convention. Spoiler: the responses were frequently, if not mostly, negative.

In this case, Courbet painted (some suspect from memory) the young Spanish woman who cared for him when he had a serious bout of cholera, in his typical seductive and sultry style. From the moment I saw this painting across the room, I found her compelling and beautiful, and that I was seeing her as the artist saw her — which, to my untrained eye, is the highest form of art.

From what I’ve read, there was just short of a public outcry about the piece. She was “too real”, and as such, too ugly. The work even earned a political cartoon, comparing her likeness to Russian leather (which I can only assume was akin to comparing her to a pile of stinking excrement).

To which I say: what?!?!?

Then I remember that we’re talking about 150 years ago — and art critics — and try my best to fit my perspectivist hat more securely on my head. And give her one more long minute of my attention, because a goddess like her deserves it.

Shot on Pixel 6 Pro.

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