Courbet chose to follow a style more in tune with Academy tastes having initially had an alternative painting rejected. His used skin tones that were more in line with their traditional preferences, when normally his approach would be more modern and groundbreaking. Woman with a Parrot shows a willingness to adapt to others, though Courbet did not display this quality very often. He was notoriously arrogant and self-confident, necessary character traits in order to defend oneself against this onslaught of criticism of which he was unfairly subjected.
The scene features a young woman laying back whilst her pet parrot sits on her left hand. It is a carefully conceived composition that pleases the artist but also, just about, managed to find favour with the Paris Salon. Joanna Hiffernan was the model here, though most knew her simply as 'Jo'. An interesting rumour behind her own life was that her breakup with James Whistler may have been due to an affair with Courbet. This has never been confirmed, though. Both artists used her to model for them on many occasions and it is believed that Courbet favoured her above all other models that he employed across his career.
Woman with a Parrot can now be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, USA. This grand institution holds around 1,700 paintings from European artists alone, even before discussing their many other collections. Some of the highlights here include paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Caravaggio, El Greco, Paolo Uccello, Jan van Eyck, Diego Velazquez, Eugène Delacroix and Edgar Degas. They hold literally a who's who of European art going back all the way to the earliest stages of the Renaissance. It is truly one of the finest collections of art in the world.