“Olympia” by Édouard Manet shows a nude woman lying on a bed being brought flowers by a servant. Olympia’s confrontational gaze caused astonishment when the painting was first exhibited because some of the details in the painting identified her as a prostitute. Also “Olympia” was a name associated with prostitutes in 1860’s Paris. Most paintings during this period of art that were this large size depicted historical or mythological events, so the significant proportions of this picture is another factor that caused surprise.
Olympia is identified in the painting as a courtesan or prostitute by the symbols of the orchid in her hair, her bracelet, the pearl earrings and the oriental shawl. The black ribbon around her neck is in stark contrast with her pale skin, reinforcing wealth and sensuality.
This painting was inspired by Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” from 1538, which in turn refers to Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus” from 1510. There were also pictorial precedents for a nude woman, attended by a black servant, by Ingres and other historical painters. However, in this painting, Manet did not depict a goddess or an odalisque but a high-class prostitute waiting for a client.
Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life and was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early masterpieces, about 20 years earlier than this painting, caused considerable controversy and served as an influence for the young painters who would create Impressionism. In the last two decades of Manet’s life, he develops his own style that served as a significant influence on future painters. The model for Olympia, Victorine Meurent, became an accomplished painter in her own right.
- Title: Olympia
- Artist: Édouard Manet
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Date: 1863
- Dimensions: H: 1,300 mm (51.18 in). W: 1,900 mm (74.8 in).
- Museum: Musée d’Orsay
Artist Essential Facts:
- Name: Édouard Manet
- Born: 1832 – Paris, France
- Died: 1883 (aged 51) – Paris, France
- Nationality: French
- Notable works:
“One who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” French Proverb
Photo Credit: Édouard Manet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons