The present work is a study for Couture's The Thorny Path of 1873 originally commissioned by Henry C. Gibson and now housed at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (fig. 1). It is possibly one of two compositional sketches entitled Courtisane Moderne, on loan from the artist's family, exhibited at the Palais de l'Industrie in Paris in 1880.
The artist described the allegory in a letter to Henry C. Gibson: 'A bitch [garce], a real bitch attached to her carriage, to her luxury and to her different lovers. Four characters suffice for me to represent youth, riches, courage, and poetry. There are all bridled, harnessed and doing their best to pull the hussy who is driving them with her magic whip, transforming them into beasts of burden...Beneath their feet are thistles, at the side of the road, a stone Priapos, fairly covered with ivy. If the whore prizes the finest human qualities so little, what does she do with her respectable mother? She is a servant, a groom!' (as quoted in A. Boime, Thomas Couture and the Eclectic Vision, New Haven, 1980, p. 364).
(fig. 1) Thomas Couture, The Thorny Path, Pennsylvania Academy of Arts.