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A French art expert believes he has solved the mystery of the model in a celebrated 19th century painting as a result of an art lover's 1,400 euro antique shop purchase that could turn out to be worth 40 million euros ($53.6 million), weekly Paris Match reported on Thursday.
"The Origin of the World" (1866) by French painter Gustave Courbet depicts female genitalia but does not show the woman's face.
Courbet expert Jean-Jacques Fernier said the discovery came after he was contacted by an art collector who in January 2010 purchased an unsigned oil painting in a Paris antique shop showing the face of a woman.
After doing some research, the man, identified only as John, became convinced it showed the woman in Courbet's work and turned to Fernier who sent the painting for laboratory analysis.
Fernier initially had reservations but now says he believes that it is indeed the face of the woman in the work who he identifies as Jo Higgerman, Irish mistress of artist James Whistler.
Paris Match claimed the painting of her face could now be worth up to 40 million euros.
Experts contacted by AFP expressed scepticism about the matching of the face and the body, declining to be named.
Paris's Orsay Museum, which has Courbet's painting, declined to comment.