Olympia (painting)

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Olympia
Artist Édouard Manet
Year 1863
Type oil on canvas (130cmx 190cm)
Location Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

Olympia is an 1863 oil painting by Édouard Manet. When it was first exhibited in 1865, the subject of the painting was controversial.

History[change | edit source]

Manet reworked Giorgione's The Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) and Titian's Venus of Urbino (c. 1538) in creating Olympia.[1] Olympia may also take inspiration from Francisco Goya's La maja desnuda (c. 1800).[2] This is uncertain however. Victorine Meurent was Manet's model for Olympia.[3] She posed as a bullfighter for him and also for the Dejeuner sur l'Herbe of 1862-63.[4] Manet painted Olympia in the autumn of 1863. The work was first seen by the public at the 1865 Salon in Paris. Manet delayed showing the painting because he feared it might produce some negative reactions.[5]

Reaction[change | edit source]

Olympia did produce negative reactions: people hated it. Some people thought the painting was immoral and vulgar. Critic Paul de Saint-Victor wrote in La Presse, "People throng in front of Manet's putrid Olympia as they would in front of a body in the Morgue. This is art fallen so low that it is not even worthy of censure".[5] Nathaniel Harris writes, "In reviewing Olympia Gautier wrote that the model was puny, the bed covered with cat's footprints, the general effect ugly: but then he made the point that "we would forgive the ugliness, were it only truthful ... The least beautiful woman has bones, muscles, skin, and some sort of colour", whereas on this woman the flesh colour was dirty and the modeling non-existent."[6] Some liked the painting. Émile Zola said it was Manet's "masterpiece". He added, "When other artists correct nature by painting Venus they lie. Manet asked himself why he should lie. Why not tell the truth?" In 1866 Zola wrote with tongue-in-cheek, "If only Manet had borrowed a powder puff ... and had lightly powdered Olympia's cheeks and her breasts she would have been a bit more presentable".[5]

Commentary[change | edit source]

Modern art historian Nathaniel Harris writes, "...Olympia was an erotic shock ... Manet presented a young woman with erotic modern trappings ... that served to emphasize her nakedness ... To add to the puzzlement of the ordinary man, Olympia's gaze was not in the least inviting, or provocative, or even enigmatic ... it was simply neutral ... [N]eutrality ... was one more affront to the 19th-century male, whose picture-women were supposed to yield, to comply ... Here the girl is cool and confident, and it is the setting and properties that suggest sexuality—perhaps a commercialized sexuality that is none too reassuring to the male ego."[7]

Gallery[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]

  1. Harris, Nathaniel (1979), A treasury of impressionism, p. 42
  2. Meyers, Jeffrey. (2004). Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt, p. 35; Beruete y Moret, Aureliano. (1922). Goya as portrait painter, p. 190.
  3. Lipton, Eunice (1999), Alias Olympia: a woman's search for Manet's notorious model & her own desire, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, ISBN 0-8014-8609-2 pp. 5–6
  4. Harris, pp. 39, 43
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Orienti, Sandra (1968), Manet, Grosset & Dunlap, pp. 14–16
  6. Harris, p. 44
  7. Harris, pp. 42-44

Further reading[change | edit source]