The Beautiful Irish Girl is regarded as one of Courbet´s most fascinating female images. The model was Joanna Heffernan, called Jo. Courbet met her at Trouville, the new fashionable Normandy seaside resorts in 1865. Jo was the Irish mistress of the expatriate American painter James McNeill Whistler. Whistler sometimes worked alongside Courbet at seascapes on the Channel coast. Courbet’s painting Jo is brought to the front of the picture plane and fills almost the entire surface so as to create a feeling of immediacy and profound intimacy, excluding anything exterior. The neutral, greenish background enhances the effect of her gorgeous thick Titian-red hair, as well as the luminosity of her pale creamy skin and the whiteness of the chemise with its fine lace trim. All over, the brushwork gives rise to a tactile and very sensuous, richly varied painterly structure. Courbet painted The Beautiful Irish Girl in four versions of roughly the same size. It is likely that the he kept the Stockholm canvas for himself. Late in life he wrote to a friend: “I still have Jo´s portrait that I will never sell and that everyone admires” and he remembered the pleasant times they had together at Trouville when Jo would entertain them with Irish songs. Courbet also painted Jo as one of two erotic nudes in The Sleepers (Petit Palais, Paris).


  • Title: Jo, the Beautiful Irish Girl
  • Creator: Gustave Courbet
  • Date Created: 1866
  • Title in Swedish: Jo, den vackra irländskan
  • Signature: Gustave Courbet 66
  • Physical Dimensions: w650 x h540 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Courbet was a French painter. He was largely self-taught, having studied the Baroque masters in the collections at the Louvre. He did not study at the French Academy of Fine Art, whose artistic stance he often challenged. His motifs, such as seen in the painting The Stone Breakers and the enormous group canvas The Artist's Studio, were often seen as shocking. His breakthrough came in 1850 with the monumental work A Burial at Ornans . With his sensational works in monumental format, Courbet was a confirmed Realist and social commentator of the 1850s. His anti-establishment stance was also made apparent when, during the World’s Fairs of 1855 and 1867, he held his own public exhibitions of his art, where he also propagated his Realist manifesto. To young artists of the time, Courbet represented an avant-garde alternative to Romanticism and Academicism. Courbet was a republican and a socialist. He was actively involved in the February Revolution of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871. His involvement there subsequently forced him into self-imposed exile in Switzerland.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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