Courbet's The Origin of the World
Courbet's The Origin of the World and the "missing head" on the cover of Paris Match (Paris Match)

An unknown art buff has reportedly found the missing "face" of one of the world most famous paintings, The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet.

Courbet's 1866 painting famously depicts the genitalia of a woman lying naked on a bed, but the model's face has never been seen.

In January 2010, however, an art collector spotted an unsigned 33x41cm picture in a Paris antique shop of the head of a brunette gazing skyward.

He believed it matched The Origin of the World, which he claimed depicted the whole body of Courbet's lover, Irish model Joanna Hiffernan. Different parts of the body were painted on several canvasses, he said.

The collector's detective work might heap a multimillion-euro reward as the head of the face cost just €1,400 (£1,200) but hass been valued at £35m.

The painting was "recognised as by Courbet" by art expert Jean-Jacques Fernier, and its first images have been published by French weekly Paris Match.

The Origin of the World is hanging in Paris' Musée d'Orsay.