Artist Édouard Manet
Year 1863
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Dimensions 51.4 in × 74.8 in
130.5 cm × 190 cm
Famous Paintings by Manet
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
The Balcony
The Fifer
The Railway
The Spanish Singer
The Old Musician
Complete Works

Olympia is one of the most famous paintings of renowned painter Édouard Manet. The masterpiece is an oil painting done on canvas. The dimensions of the paintings are 51 by 74.8 inches. The Olympia was painted in 1863 and was obtained by France in 1890. It is currently displayed in Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Manet and Controversies

Manet’s works became synonymous with being controversial. His previous work The Luncheon on the Grass had created uproar. His new painting called Olympia was first displayed in 1865. It created a much bigger furor, since conformist and conservatives of the then society were aghast at the brazen nudity depicted in the painting. It was promptly labeled as being obscenely vulgar.

The work of art was first exhibited in Paris Salon. The administration there had to take extra safety measures to keep the hardliners from destroying it. However, not everyone was against Manet’s work. He had supporters too who appreciated his painting of the nude woman as a form of the artist’s representation of the real world.

Reason for Disdain

The audience of that time could not digest the unabashed exposé that Manet had painted. It was not so much the nudity that appalled people. The viewers were scandalized by the brazen look the artist gave the woman. It bears more of a challenging stare, that of a courtesan’s, which people could not want to relate to. The entire depiction was bold, and a little too much to accept by the conservative society of the 19th century.

The Painting

Olympia is as everyone knows a nude painting. The artist had not made any attempt to cover up the nakedness. He perhaps wanted to dramatize the effect; because right next to the naked woman stands a fully dressed maid. The artist has in fact created a stark contrast which is glaring and makes the nudity more apparent. A number of details in the painting point that the model chosen by Manet was a courtesan.

The woman who is fully undressed is shown lying on an oriental stole on a couch. A maid stands next to her with a big bouquet of flowers. The look on the maids face is interestingly normal. There is no sense of discomfort to be standing next to a naked woman who is obviously posing for the painting in the nude. This is of interest as the society back then was not as liberated as we find it today.

The model wears an orchid in her hair. There is a black cord around her neck, which highlights her pale skin. A bracelet and pearl earrings are her other adornments. She wears a blue strapped slipper on one foot as the other lies carelessly removed.

The subject’s hand covers her private parts; even though her breasts are exposed. There is not a hint of awkwardness as she poses in the nude. It seems obvious she feels her supremacy over everyone around. The black cat is symbolic of the woman’s profession which is prostitution.

In its style Manet’s Olympia digresses from the theoretical standard. He used wide brushstrokes instead of soft color tones used by his contemporaries for painting nudes. Olympia is still appreciated as a fine work of art.

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