The Woman in the Waves, 1868
Gustave Courbet (French, 1819–1877)
Oil on canvas; 25 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. (65.4 x 54 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.62)
Between 1864 and 1868, Courbet produced a series of paintings of female nudes, including this one. He could not have failed to witness the triumph of Cabanel's Birth of Venus (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) at the Salon of 1863, along with the popularity of other representations of Venus by Cabanel's fellow academicians. In Woman in the Waves, Courbet evokes the myth of Venus born of the sea, but slyly subverts the figure's pose, which derived from academic convention, by depicting the model's underarm hair—an element of realism underscored by the almost palpable quality of her flesh.