Olympia (Manet)

Artist Édouard Manet
Year 1863
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 130.5 cm × 190 cm (51.4 in × 74.8 in)
Location Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Olympia is a painting by Édouard Manet, first exhibited at the 1865 Paris Salon, which shows a nude white woman ("Olympia") lying on a bed being brought flowers by a black servant. Olympia was modelled by Victorine Meurent. Olympia's confrontational gaze caused shock and astonishment when the painting was first exhibited because a number of details in the picture identified her as a prostitute. The French government acquired the painting in 1890 after a public subscription organized by Claude Monet. The painting is on display at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


What shocked contemporary audiences was not Olympia's nudity, nor the presence of her fully clothed maid, but her confrontational gaze and a number of details identifying her as a demi-mondaine or prostitute.[1] Some of the details that indicated Olympia as a prostitute include the orchid in her hair, her bracelet, pearl earrings and the oriental shawl on which she lies, symbols of wealth and sensuality. The black ribbon around her neck, in stark contrast with her pale flesh, and her cast-off slipper underline the voluptuous atmosphere. "Olympia" was a name associated with prostitutes in 1860s Paris.[2]

The painting is modelled after Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538).[3] Whereas the left hand of Titian's Venus is curled and appears to entice, Olympia's left hand appears to block, which has been interpreted as symbolic of her sexual independence from men and her role as a prostitute, granting or restricting access to her body in return for payment. Manet replaced the little dog (symbol of fidelity) in Titian's painting with a black cat, which traditionally symbolized prostitution. Olympia disdainfully ignores the flowers presented to her by her servant, probably a gift from a client. Some have suggested that she is looking in the direction of the door, as her client barges in unannounced.

The painting deviates from the academic canon in its style, characterized by broad, quick brushstrokes, studio lighting that eliminates mid-tones, large color surfaces and shallow depth. Unlike the smooth idealized nude of Alexandre Cabanel's La naissance de Vénus, also painted in 1863, Olympia is a real woman whose nakedness is emphasized by the harsh lighting.[1] The canvas alone is 51.4 x 74.8 inches, which is rather large for this genre-style painting. Most paintings that were this size depicted historical or mythological events, so the size of the work, among other factors, caused surprise. Finally, Olympia is fairly thin by the artistic standards of the time and her relatively undeveloped body is more girlish than womanly. Charles Baudelaire thought thinness more indecent than fatness.[4]

The model for Olympia, Victorine Meurent, became an accomplished painter in her own right.[5]


In part, the painting was inspired by Titian's Venus of Urbino (c. 1538), which in turn refers to Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (c. 1510). Léonce Bénédite was the first art historian to explicitly acknowledge the similarity to the Venus of Urbino in 1897.[6] There is also some similarity to Francisco Goya's La maja desnuda (c. 1800).[7]

There were also pictorial precedents for a nude woman, attended by a black servant, such as Ingres' Odalisque with a Slave (1842), Léon Benouville's Esther with Odalisque (1844) and Charles Jalabert's Odalisque (1842).[8] Comparison is also made to Ingres' Grande Odalisque (1814). Unlike other artists, Manet did not depict a goddess or an odalisque but a high-class prostitute waiting for a client.

Critical reaction

Paul Cézanne A Modern Olympia (c. 1873/74)

Though Manet's The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) sparked controversy in 1863, his Olympia stirred an even bigger uproar when it was first exhibited at the 1865 Paris Salon. Conservatives condemned the work as "immoral" and "vulgar."[1] Journalist Antonin Proust later recalled, "If the canvas of the Olympia was not destroyed, it is only because of the precautions that were taken by the administration." The critics and the public condemned the work alike. Even Émile Zola was reduced to disingenuously commenting on the work's formal qualities rather than acknowledging the subject matter, "You wanted a nude, and you chose Olympia, the first that came along".[9] He paid tribute to Manet's honesty, however, "When our artists give us Venuses, they correct nature, they lie. Édouard Manet asked himself why lie, why not tell the truth; he introduced us to Olympia, this fille of our time, whom you meet on the sidewalks."[10]


References and sources

  1. 1 2 3 "Édouard Manet's Olympia by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker". Smarthistory. Khan Academy. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  2. Clark, T.J. (1999) The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. Revised edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.86.
  3. Millett-Gallant, Ann (2010-08-03). The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 31–. ISBN 9780230109971. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  4. Reff, Theodore. (1976) Manet: Olympia. London: Allen Lane, p. 57. ISBN 0713908076
  5. "The naked truth" The Guardian, 3 October 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  6. Reff, p. 48.
  7. 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.
  8. The Puzzle of Olympia. Phylis A. Floyd, 19th Century Art Worldwide, 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  9. Quoted in Honour, H. and J. Fleming, (2009) A World History of Art. 7th edn. London: Laurence King Publishing, p. 708. ISBN 9781856695848
  10. Andersen, Frits (2004). Karen-Margarethe Simonsen; Marianne Ping Huang; Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, eds. Reinventions of the Novel: Histories and Aesthetics of a Protean Genre. Rodopi. p. 79. ISBN 9789042008434.
  11. "Yasumasa Morimura, Portrait (Futago)".
  12. "Mark Shipway, "Somms Recreating Old Masters: Series 1"".

External links

External video

Edouard Manet's Olympia

From Smarthistory

Media related to Olympia by Manet at Wikimedia Commons

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.