An eight-year legal battle between social media behemoth Facebook and a French teacher who posted a link to a classic, 19th-century nude oil painting has finally come to an end, with Facebook agreeing to settle the case over its sudden closure of Frederic Durand’s account, according to a report by the French Press Agency.
In 2011, Durand posted a link to a digital image of the 1866 painting “L’Origine du monde,” i.e. “The Origin of the World,” by Gustave Courbet, a pioneer of the French realist movement. But typical of Facebook functionality, when Durand posted the link on his Facebook page, a thumbnail image of the painting—depicting a medium close-up of a woman exposing her genitalia—appeared on his page, violating the Facebook ban on nude images.
The painting, which was shocking in in its frank depiction of the female anatomy even in the French art world of its era, is often called “The Mona Lisa of Vaginas,” not only for its striking simplicity that somehow conveys deeper layers of meaning, but also for the mystery of the model who posed for the nude, according to The Guardian.
The woman depicted in the painting has never been definitively identified, though she was long believed to be Joanna Hiffernan, a sometime lover of the now-legendary American painter James McNeill Whistler. But that theory appears to have been debunked. View an image of the classic nude painting at this link.
The painting hangs in the French Left Bank art museum Musée d’Orsay. Durand claimed that Facebook was restricting his freedom of expression under French law by shuttering his account after spotting the link to the nude masterwork.
“Calling Courbet a pornographer, me who loves Courbet, is to call me a pornographer,” Durand told The Associated Press in an interview last year.
Facebook had attempted to get a court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that Durand could sue only in California, where Facebook is headquartered. But in 2016 a French court disagreed and allowed the lawsuit to proceed under French laws, according to the BBC, a potentially troubling development for Facebook, which contends that despite the social media platform’s global dominance, it can be answerable to legal challenges only in the United States.
Terms of the settlement were not confirmed, but Durand was initially awarded about $22,000—a decision that was later overturned by a higher French court. But Durand’s attorney said the suit was settled when Facebook agreed to make a financial donation to the French street art group Le MUR, or “The WALL.” But the lawyer did not say why that group was chosen to receive the donation, or why Durand—who had been preparing a new appeal—had agreed to settle at all.
In 2015, Facebook revised its anti-nudity policy to permit depictions of nudity in artworks.
Photo By Minette Lontsie/Wikimedia Commons
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