Womenswear 1 C
OLYMPIA by ÉDOUARD MANET (1863).
The image I am about to describe is a painting of large dimensions (130cm x 190cm). The focal point of this painting is a reclining nude female wearing nothing but a pair of shoes, a bracelet on her right hand, a black string tied around her neck and a pink flower in her hair. She is positioned on a bed with white sheetsand pillows, in a reclined posture with crossed legs with her right hand supporting her against a pillow whilst her left one rests on her thigh. At the subject's feet, there stands a black cat on a hankerchief featuring a floral motif . Behind the woman, a second woman stands wearing a white turban and dress, holding a bouquet of flowers. The background of the image is made up of brown walls andgreen curtains. The artist makes use of imprecise brushtrokes combined with a sharp contrast of lights and darks.
Effectively, this painting is the work of the precursor to Modernism, Édouard Manet. The piece, entitled Olympia, was painted in 1863. The painting was first unveiled in 1865 at the Salon in Paris. It is currently located at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
Olympia was presented along witha second piece, Christ Scourged. The former was met with ridicule, disdain and criticism from the Parisian audience. At the time of the painting’s submission, art critics and the general public had a very traditional expectation of the female nude and Manet's Olympia defied those expectations. Olympia's eyes also appeared to be looking directly at the viewer, rendering her stare provocative if notchallenging. Olympia presented all the attributes of a courtesan as opposed to those of a more traditional deity. These are the attributes that caused all the outrage amongst art critics and the general public.
Manet was introducing a new concept, replacing the immortal and divine goddess, Venus, with a mortal, a courtesan. Though this allusion was not apparent at the time. Of the many reviewsthat were published on Olympia at the time, none seemed to note the close resemblance between the piece and Titian's Venus of Urbino. Only a few critics sought to defend Olympia. Émile Zola was one of the greatest defenders of the piece though he did not take the subject-matter seriously, stating the painting was 'without meaning, hence irrelevant to his purpose' (Reff 1976: 22). He paid specialattention to the distribution of lights and darks in the painting, praising Manet for his successful plays on tones. Such descriptions reflect Zola's conception of the artist as a 'naturalistic observer who, like himself, renders the objects he perceives acutely and energetically but without concern for their social or personal significance' (Reff 1976: 23). Nowadays, however, there remains adiscourse as to whether Zola mirrored Manet's views in terms of content and subject matter or not.
What remains clear is that Manet's allusion of Titian's work was not appreciated by the time of the painting’s introduction to the Parisian public. Manet's contemporaries 'failed to realize how closely he had followed the Venus of Urbino's composition' (Reff 1976: 20). This connection would not be noteduntil the 1890s, when Geffroy associated Olympia's composition with Venetian art (Reff 1976). Olympia was then identified by Bénédite as a 'modern transposition of the Venus of Urbino, one which makes us aware of all that separates the courtesan of the past from the prostitute of today' (Reff 1976: 28).
Olympia was released in a period when Venetian art heritage was in its prime. However,although it is evident that Manet was influenced by Venetian art, he chose Titian's Venus for different purposes. The painting was not only a famous example of Venetian art, but also an image of a particular figure, a nude female, embodied in a specific design. Titian's work was composed of a single foreground plane. This technique was a favourite of Manet's, and this is evident in other works of...