Manet's Portrait of Olympia

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This is a 2 page essay explaining Manet's "Olympia" in terms of its reception during its era. The comparison to Baudelaire's "The Painter of a Modern Life" and how they are equated are covered. It relies on 2 sources presented in MLA format.

Manet's Portrait of "Olympia"

Edouard Manet was truly a pioneer of contemporary art. His controversial

painting of a woman he called Olympia-an unclad prostitute-made history in both a

positive and negative manner. "Olympia" was unlike any paintings of nude females that

had come before her. She was not portrayed as delicate or ethereal. Also, she was not

bathing or getting dressed as those were acceptable reasons for being naked. This

modern woman was completely nude, in bed, bound for a sexual encounter.

In 1865 "Olympia" was exhibited at the Salon. Outrage and scandal ensued over

the lack of modesty and propriety this piece of art displayed. Critics denounced the work

because of what Manet tried to represent: A prostitute-or possibly mistress- ready to have

sex. As if that were not scandalous enough, the look on Olympia's face was just as

appalling. Women were supposed to be portrayed as demure and rarely stared directly at

the painting's viewer. She looks the viewer in the eye-while covering her private area-

with a certain brazenness that was considered inappropriate.

The Salon was known for having placid, more conventional artistry. Manet

strayed from that type of concept and paid dearly in the eyes of traditional art lovers.

Although the public did not accept "Olympia" as being masterful at the time, it

eventually grew into a classic piece of work. He is regarded as the father of

impressionism and "Olympia" has been on display at the Louvre for almost one hundred


Manet and Baudelaire's "The Painter of a Modern Life"

In Charles Baudelaire's essay "The Painter of a Modern Life" he recognized two

forms of beauty: infinite and ephemeral. Manet's "Olympia" definitely encompassed the

infinite aspect of beauty, however, the essay focuses on the ephemeral. Baudelaire states

the foundation of eternal beauty is time as it comes and goes. "Olympia" truly embodied

this notion as it clearly was not revered as beautiful art when it was painted. The Salon

critics of this era could not see past the degrading character in which she was portrayed to

the true beauty of the work. As with most works of art, the passing of time increases

their value and their beauty becomes eternal. However, Baudelaire believes artists should

conform to the modern age's ideal standard of beauty. This of course can be combined

with facets from time that has passed and that is exactly what Manet did when he painted

"Olympia". There had been many paintings of nude women before this but they were of

a different ilk. They were goddesses and nymphs and demure women that were to be

worshipped, not salacious prostitutes. Manet used the idea of nudity but in a totally

different, more contemporary light than his predecessors. He captured the standard of

beauty during his day therefore, "Olympia" will remain an impression of modern art of

his era.

Works Cited

Salon. 13 May 2002. Manet's "Olympia". 4 Oct. 2007 < >.

Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. London: Phaidon Press, 1995.