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Fri, Jul 12, 2024

‘The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’ is a paintbrush made of pubic hair and as paint the scent of vagina. It's a reference to L'Origine du Monde by Gustave Courbet

The work will be on view Tuesday 2 December in the exhibition of the conference 'Sense of Smell' in the MOTI Museum, Breda, The Netherlands

Artist reacts to his own work ‘Deflowering of Madonna’ with a new work, in which the scent of vagina is used as a medium once again.


On October 23rd, Peter de Cupere showed the work ‘Deflowering’ for the first time. In this work a Madonna statue made out of frozen holy water melted and slowly released the scent of a vagina. ‘Deflowering received a lot of reaction all over the world.

After publication of an article in the Huffington Post entitled ‘Olfactory Artist Has Crafted A ‘Holy Water’ Sculpture That Smells Like Vagina’, it was shared worldwide over hundreds of news sites. The reactions were vividly enthusiastic. The artist received more than a thousand ‘personal’ e-mails from women who thanked him because dared to express himself about the ‘wonderfulness’ of femininity as an artist and as a man. What one rarely dares to say, was said.

A lot of reactions also derived from the freedom as a woman to express herself and to be seen as an equal to man. The artist, through this work, questioned the low position of women in religion. He also mentioned that in some religions, women are still not equal to men, though he emphasized that this concerns a minority of religions. However, that this is still possible in 2014 and that it is still a sensitive topic to talk about, also showed itself in the many reactions in which one blamed the artist to be seeking sensation.

Art in which religion is questioned, is still a sensitive item, especially when the position of the woman is mentioned.

There were not only positive reactions, but as it is with good art, there were also anti-reactions. This shows that talking about female liberties is still a sensitive issue for many and remains a taboo. Or a previously created taboo. Because, be real and tell it yourself; every woman has a vagina, just as every man has a penis. Why is this still so sensitive in the present time? Is it because religion stays conservative, while art thinks progressively and goes with the flow? Why does a small statue of about 20cm of height create so much response.

4349979308_7f143684d4_bThe printing of genitals in art was once also taboo. Gustave Courbet was the first artist who showed the female vagina in all its glory as a statement. For some, this work of art is the first work in which the painting does not require only to be looked at, but which in combination with the title as a complete work makes a statement. ‘L’origine du Monde’ (1866) shows us as described by the title where the origin of our existence is derived from. One can also see this work as an anti-religious work in which no god is seen as the origin of the world, but human kind. It speaks for itself that the work made quite an appearance and was provocative in its time. Now it belongs as one of the masterpieces to the collection of the ‘Musée d’Orsay’ in Paris!

Peter de Cupere has taken the work ‘L’Origine du monde’ by Gustave Courbet as an exit point to respond to the reactions to the work ‘Deflowering’. A lot of male reactions mentioned that the smell of vagina cannot be art!



De Cupere made a proper pencil in which he replaced the hairs of the pencil by pubic hairs and as paint, the smell of vagina. The work received the title ‘The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’.

The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet

The Making of The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet from Peter De Cupere on Vimeo.

Of course ‘The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’ is a reference to the work “L’Origine du Monde” and can thus be seen as a tribute. The work is also a tribute to the feminine and more specifically to the female fantasies  and pleasure. Nothing as creative to start with an empty canvas and to brush down your desires with the smell of vagina! The paintbrush of Gustave Courbet is not only an object of sculpture, but also a painting in its utmost extreme meaning reduced to the basic instrument being a pencil and its paint.

Here, the paint is vaginal smell, this time developed in a German and French laboratory and optimalised in the Peter de Cupere’s own smell laboratory. An improved version of the vaginal smell of the work ‘Deflowering’. Because also in vaginal smells there are differences. The composition was improved with a mixture of even more women from different races and nationalities.

Peter de Cupere sees the work purely as a tribute, also to women as to Gustave Courbet. It is not purely from him being a man that he looks at this work, but more so how to make a statement with smell as an artist. Smell as a context of the work is the art of the future which has been imbedded into his work for years now. Through smell giving content to a work is more than simply the sum of the used smells and materials.


By replacing the hairs of the pencil by pubic hairs, the reference to Courbets’ painting is more clear, but even without the pubic hair, the work would present well. To look at vaginal smell as paint is a poetic statement. The artist could also have used the smell of sperm, however, when it comes down to pure olfactory value, the smell of vagina is more rich than the smell of sperm. The smell of a vagina tells a bigger story than the smell of sperm just as the woman in art history is more interesting than the man. To an artist, the realization of a work is satisfying, as is getting there and therefore the line between both is platonically not far off.

In a certain manner, the work also questions painting. Duchamp already mentioned that the future of art is no longer in painting, but in the use of senses. ‘The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’ can thus be seen as having played a key role throughout art history. Painting will keep on existing since smell is offering itself as a medium.

The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’ is besides a tribute to Gustave Courbet and to female beauty, also a statement that smell in itself can work as art. Olfactory Art already exists for many years, but is seldom part of a collection in museum. Despite the fact that collectors find their way to artists working with smell, the official institutes remain a bit reluctant. Through history, collectors have always been one step ahead of museums in the timely purchase of progressive important art works. History repeats itself, it is time for the museums to wake up and look beyond their nose. De Cupere has his works in different private collections, and only few museums have already acquired one of his works. And this is the case for most Olfactory artists.

‘The Paintbrush of Gustave Courbet’ is exhibited for one day next week Tuesday during the exhibition ‘The Sense of Smell’ in Moti Museum, Breda – The Netherlands and is only accessible to participants to the lectures of The Sense of Smell Congress where Peter de Cupere isone of the key visiting lecturers.


For whoever wishes to see the ‘Deflowering’ of madonna, can visit it this coming Sunday 30 November at the ‘Bad Moon’ festival in Antwerp – Belgium where the ‘Deflowering’ is exhibited in a church!