Édouard Manet Olympia
For many hundreds of years, French artistic society was characterized by a very stilted and highly codified set of strict norms and rules. At first, French artists were utterly dominated by the tastes (and, indeed, the whims) of the king and his courtiers. Later on, salons and institutions such as the French Academy prevailed over the larger community of French artists and set standards for what was and was not appropriate. The Manet Olympia painting, completed in 1863, is in part a reaction against this climate. Manet's Olympia is deeply critical of French society of the time and sparked massive controversy when the artist finally won the coveted salon space for its public display.
The Olympia Manet created is in some ways surprisingly conventional. Manet's Olympia shows distinct influences from other paintings of a similar type, mostly notably the Venus of Urbino by Titian. However, this painting inverts many of the symbols of the original work. This new Olympia painting takes on a life of its own due to the social commentary Manet carefully constructs. In the original Titian work, the presence of the dog suggests fidelity and the maid searching a trunk in the background makes it clear the lady who is the painting's central figure is of noble standing. A close reading of the painting shows the artist's dedication to subverting this paradigm.
The Manet Olympia is broadly similar to the pose and posture used by Titian. But the Olympia Manet has conceived is no noble lady. The presence of the maid, brought into the foreground, suggests vanity and hedonism. This Olympia painting is not of an aristocrat, but a courtesan, whose status is indicated by the flower she wears in her hair. The Olympia Manet presents us with is a woman of questionable morality who challenges the viewer with her direct gaze and the undeniable trappings of wealth. For all of these reasons and more, Manet's work infuriated the very same members of "polite society" who had taken it upon themselves to serve as arbiters of taste in the art world.
This painting marks the beginning of Manet's experimentation with modern life subjects and his journey from Realism to Impressionism. It is a wonderful item for anyone who loves 19th century French art or the scathing social commentary that many artists of that time had to offer. Like the lady who features so prominently within it, this painting may dominate a space depending on its surroundings. It is truly a fine addition to a parlor, drawing room or antechamber, with a spring glow to the central figure. Only ArtsHeaven.com can bring you this excellent reproduction. Our methods painstakingly imitate the palette and brushwork of masterpieces from France, Italy, and around the globe.
- PBS: Edouard Manet's Olympia Discussed
- Olympia at the Musee d'Orsay, France
- Article about Olympia from the UK Guardian
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