Manet's "Olympia".

Essay by tanyagUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, March 2004

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A naked woman on an unmade bed is the subject of Edouard Manet's 1863 painting Olympia. The painting was first unveiled in Paris in 1865 at the Salon, a place where people gathered together to admire pieces of art. The same year Manet painted Olympia, he submitted his painting Dejeuner sur l'herbe to the Salon. The jury, a group of people who decided which paintings were to be hung in the Salon, rejected this painting that illustrated clothed men picnicking outdoors with a naked woman. When the piece was finally shown publicly that same year, it brought out a similar negative response from the viewers. Before submitting Olympia to the Salon, Manet waited two years. The jury accepted Manet's new work and it was hung up. Parisians were so outraged, for protection Olympia had to be moved near the high ceiling of the Salon. Olympia shocked the public, not only due to the subject matter but the unfamiliar style as well.

A painting depicting unclothed people was without doubt acceptable at the time, many of them displayed at the Salon, including works by Ingres, Cabanel, and Gerome. Of course their works were idealized. Their pieces showed nude figures with perfect skin, free of cellulite, rolls, and any other flaws. Manet portrayed, the nude, as an unidealized woman, a prostitute who stared directly out at the viewer. People felt it humanized prostitution, which was not, in that time and place, an accepted thing to do. Victorine Meurent, was Manet's model depicted as a courtesan, a woman whose body was used for service. At that time many courtesans and prostitutes delivered their services to middle and upper class gentlemen, but it was obvious by their reactions they did not want to be confronted with one in a painting in a gallery...