Frédéric Durand-Baïssas says Gustave Courbet’s oil on canvas of a woman’s genitalia deserves to be shared. But Facebook disagrees and has removed his profile for breaching the social network’s nudity ban.
And so the battle over Mr Durand-Baïssas’s right to posting an image of the painting on the social network has continued for almost four years. Other Facebook users have posted Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World – only to be told to take down the painting. Now Mr Durand-Baïssas is demanding €20,000 (£14,000) in damages and the right to have his Facebook profile reinstated.
Key to the battle is where the case is heard. Mr Durand-Baïssas, an art enthusiast, wants the hearing to take place in Paris, where the Musée d’Orsay which houses The Origin is located.
Facebook has demanded the case be heard in California, appealing an earlier ruling ordering a French hearing.
Facebook disabled Mr Durand-Baïssas’ profile after receiving a complaint in 2011. The artwork, painted in 1886, was part of link he shared, redirecting to a documentary on the history of The Origin.
The teacher told Europe 1, the radio station, that he was “fighting to defend Courbet, condemned by the Americans”. Speaking to The Independent, his lawyer, Stéphane Cottineau, said his client felt he was a victim of “prejudice” and had been treated “like a pornographer”. Securing a French hearing, Mr Cottineau said, was the “first of David’s victories against Goliath”.
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks
1/8 'My Bed' - Tracey Emin
Emin, one of the Young British Artists, created arguably her most iconic and controversial piece of art with 'My Bed'. It was short-listed for the 1999 Tuner Prize but sparked public outrage and a media furore. Emin's own bed is displayed here, surrounded by evidence of her sexual, self-destructive exploits. Stained sheets, fag butts, empty beer bottles, condom and worn underwear can all be seen in this image of suicidal depression following a major break-up.
2/8 'Christ You Know It Ain't Easy' - Sarah Lucas
This 3D piece by English artist and Tracey Emin contemporary Sarah Lucas is made from cigarette butts and depicts Christ being crucified on the cross of the English flag. It is thought to be a comment on the difficulty of quitting smoking. Lucas took up the habit aged 9. Much of her work is designed to be shocking and provocative - someone is always offended.
3/8 'Fountain' - Marcel Duchamp
This scandalous porcelain urinal, signed R.Mutt, was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 even though the rules stated that any submission would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. Pictured here is a replica of the 1917 piece. The original is believed lost. 'Fountain' is an example of Duchamp's revolutionary 'readymades' - ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as art.
4/8 'The Holy Virgin Mary' - Chris Ofili
The provocative Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Art Museum in 1999 caused great offence. Nigerian artist Ofili's depiction of an African Madonna surrounded by black bottoms and elephant poo was called 'anti-Catholic' and 'horrible' by New York's mayor at the time. So 'horrible' that Rudy Giuliani filed a lawsuit against the museum.
5/8 'Immersion Piss Christ' - Andres Serrano
Two Catholic activists partially destroyed US artist Serrano's artwork while it was on display in the south of France. Created in 1987, it represents a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine.
6/8 'Western-Christian Civilization' - Leon Ferrari
Argentine conceptual artist Ferrari often dealt with power and religion in his work, using images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with cages, frying pans and even meat blenders. Showing Christ crucified on a fighter plane, 'Western-Christian Civilization' was a protest work against the Vietnam War. Governments were constantly battling against Ferrari - he was exiled from Brazil and a 2004 exhibition of his work was temporarily forced to close when Pope Francis intervened.
7/8 'Bacchante and Infant Faun' - Frederick William MacMonnies
This bronze statue caused an uproar in 1854 when an architect tried to erect it in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library. Modern viewers will see little to get het up about but the nude Roman wine deity's 'drunken indecency' offended the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It was taken down to the more liberal New York instead and is now exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. MacMonnies earned worldwide fame as a result.
8/8 'Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain' - Damien Hirst
No stranger to controversy, Hirst's original sculpture had no fig leaf to protect his modesty. The artist added the extra detail to prevent issues with Chinese collectors and left it in when the sculpture was displayed in Qatar. Nudity can offend Islamic culture, particularly in places where the general public has not been exposed to contemporary art.
But Facebook says all litigation should take place in California, where it is headquartered – a policy that would make it difficult for individuals to take it to task. Some 82 per cent of its daily active users are based outside the US and Canada.
The company first ruffled French feathers in 2013 when it forced the Jeu de Paume photography museum in Paris to take down a post showing a portrait of a woman with her breasts exposed, taken by Laure Albin Guillot in 1940. Their guidelines, updated in March, state that nipples on a female breast are not allowed unless they are “actively engaged in breastfeeding”.
But Facebook adds that while nudity is banned, “photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures” are allowed. A Facebook spokesman was quoted as saying posts of Courbet’s masterpiece “wouldn’t pose a problem today”. That was quickly put to the test when websites superimposed Facebook “like”icons around Courbet’s representation of the female form.
Facebook has 1.4 billion active users a month. Any complaints are sent to moderators, who decide whether or not to delete the account or the material alone.
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