L’Origine du monde: Art or pornography?

Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet

When Facebook suspended his account “without warning or justification” in February 2011 after he posted a photo of Gustave Courbet’s 19th century nude painting  ‘The Origin of the World’ (L’Origine du monde), Frédéric Durant took them to court.

A close up and personal view of a ladies’ private parts, this oil-on-canvas work  painted in 1866 shows the genitals and tummy of a naked woman, lying on a bed with legs spread.

The painting, now hanging in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, famously shocked the bourgeois society of his time.

Gustave Courbet led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting.

Facebook fought for five years to avoid going to court in France, claiming that  the teacher,  Frederic Durand, had agreed to their terms and conditions, one of which said that all disputes should be heard in California. His grounds for the court case were based around his statement that FB was confusing pornography and art .

Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content

“Facebook interdit la publication de contenus pornographiques et de matériaux de nature sexuelle lorsqu’un mineur est impliqué. Nous imposons également des limites à l’affichage de certaines parties du corps. Nous respectons le droit de publier des contenus de nature personnelle, qu’il s’agisse de photos d’une sculpture telle que le David de Michel-Ange ou de photos avec un enfant au sein de sa mere.”

The battle ended in 2018 when the social media giant agreed with the courts to make an undisclosed donation to an art foundation instead of the 20,000 requested by M Durand for damages.



  1. When I was a lecturer at what is now Birmingham City University an arts student was asked to do a seminar on pornography v fine art. She took a film of Robert Maplethorpe photos to a photo shop for printing, and when she turned up to collect them the paedophile and pornography unit of the West Midlands police were there to question her and seize the book of Maplethorpe’s work. They demanded the uni destroy all copies of Maplethorpe’s work. In the end the book was returned to the uni, and put back on the library shelves

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