Julie Curtiss - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, May 15, 2024 | Phillips

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  • A seminal example from Julie Curtiss, D'après l'Origine du monde, 2016, represents a crux in the artist’s practice in which the braided hair motif for which she is now known became more stylistically defined. The present example is a masterpiece that represents the motif’s fullest expression, dominating the composition and merging with the figure. It marks a point in which the artist found her painterly voice and made the shift to her mature, recognizable style. At this ambitious point in Curtiss’ career, she turned her focus to a fittingly ambitious subject in Gustav Courbet’s famed L'Origine du monde, 1866. In D'après l'Origine du monde, Curtiss replaces the verisimilar fleshiness that polarized nineteenth-century viewers with her signature hair, directly taking on the legacy of a fellow French artist and commenting on his perspective of the female body. 


    Gustav Courbet, L'Origine du monde, 1866, Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France. Image: Photo Josse/Scala, Florence

    Swirls of umber locks construct the figure's breasts, stomach and genitals, splayed out on a lilac-tinted sheet. While Courbet's look at the female pubis is imbued with a self-serious reverence, Curtiss’ is wonderfully absurdist. Body hair now replaces the flesh of the body, denying the male gaze that is inseparable from Courbet’s original. Taking on one of the most recognizable paintings from art history, Curtiss breaks away from past representations of woman as object, reimbuing her subject with power. Hair is used for rebellion and resistance to social norms, placed in tension with the suggestive pose of the legs-spread figure. D'après l'Origine du monde leads viewers to consider the seductive and repulsive potentials of hair and how this is crucially defined by where the hair is located on the body. 

    “Hair itself is amorphous, but you can shape it; it's inert and alive at once. On women's heads it's a sexual asset, but on her body, it's considered ‘abject.’”
    —Julie Curtiss

    Curtiss adheres to Courbet’s 1866 composition, importantly omitting the figure’s head and site of the more conventionally attractive location for hair. Of painting partial figures she explains, “I didn’t feel like giving into that satisfaction,” continuing, “I felt that I could allude to my characters’ feelings or personalities by dropping visual clues here and there, and I leave it to the viewer to piece the image back together.”i This fragmentation adds the uncanny, surrealist quality celebrated in Curtiss’ works. It is a standout example of the artist’s work that has put her at the forefront of contemporary surrealism alongside artists including Emily Mae Smith and Loie Hollowell. It is also a painting that by design denies an easy read, requiring viewers to grapple with its contradictions. 


    D'après l'Origine du monde is part of a body of work in which Curtiss revisited famed French paintings such as Georges Seurat’s La Grande Jette, 1884–86, and Édouard Manet’s Olympia, 1863. As a French woman who grew up in Paris, she was exposed from an early age to the visual language of these artists. Directly referencing the paintings of Courbet, Seurat and Manet within her own work, Curtiss confronts a sort of cultural and art historical father complex. Courbet’s philosophically titled painting, which at one point belonged to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, inevitably sparks questions relating to the psyche. Curtiss’ reinterpretation of the woman in unending braids of hair further adds to psychological implications, ruminating on the inner conflicts of contemporary femininity. As she explains, “The hair motif is connected to something deeply personal, but it’s also tied to universal symbols. Hair evokes something primordial, it’s a part of our body that grows relentlessly and that we can cut off without pain. It refers to something animalistic, like fur. My work deals with ideas of the wild and the tame; nature and culture in the female psyche.”ii


    i Julie Curtiss in “Julie Curtiss: Wild Women and Dark Humour,” Elephant, July 13, 2019, online

    ii Julie Curtiss in “Julie Curtiss: Wild Women and Dark Humour” 

    • Provenance

      Private Collection

    • Exhibited

      New York, Spring/Break Art Show, Julie Tuyet Curtiss: Reflections, February 28–March 6, 2017

    • Literature

      Brigitte Mulholland, "Brigitte Mulholland with Julie Curtiss," Painting is Dead, November 2, 2017, online (illustrated)
      Claire Milbrath, "Unsettling Energies with Julie Curtiss," The Editorial Magazine, September 17, 2019, online (illustrated)
      Julie Curtiss, Monads and Dyads, exh. cat., White Cube, London, 2021, pl. 59, pp. 108, 123 (illustrated, p. 108)
      Emma Gontier, "Décryptage – La ré-interprétation de tableaux célèbres par des artistes femmes," Artistik Rezo, January 10, 2022, online (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Julie Curtiss

      Born and raised in Paris, France, Julie Curtiss (b. 1982) now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Curtiss studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris.

      The artist draws on a history of figurative painting including 18th- and 19th-century French painting, as well as the Chicago Imagists and the ‘pop’ imagery of comic books, manga and illustration. Frequent subject matter focuses on the deconstructed female body and symbols of stereotypical female aesthetics. There are similarities between Curtiss’ work and the painters of the female Surrealist movement of the early 20th century in the use of distorted perspectives, dreamscapes, and humor to reflect upon the female experience.  

      Curtiss’ work is represented in a number of museum collections, among which are Bronx Museum, New York; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; High Museum, Atlanta; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maki Collection, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Yuz Museum, Shanghai.


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D'après l'Origine du monde

signed, titled and dated "Julie Curtiss 2016 "D'après l'Origine du Monde"" on the reverse
acrylic and oil on canvas
23 x 28 in. (58.4 x 71.1 cm)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$120,000 - 180,000 

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 May 2024