Olympia was only the first Manet painting to be shown in the upper rows of the Paris Salon and yet it was still able to start an (artistic) revolution.
The painting is modeled after Titian'sVenus of Urbino and features a nude woman (Olympia, pun intended) confidently reclined on a bed wearing nothing but accessories with a small black cat at her feet and a black female servantholding a flower bouquet: all symbols of lust and sensuality of a 19th-century Parisian prostitute included in our piece. Here, the modern context is what defines it as a revolutionary work of art, because although nudity and prostitution were current themes in classical pieces, Manet mocks the tradition and presents the “new Venus”: a much slimmer and defiant version of the classical goddess, whose body is a commodity and is portrayed in flatly and poorly cropped scene, contoured with loose brushstrokes of contrasting colors.
She looks straight at the viewer (almost as if he/she were the client), a shocking behavior not only for a woman at the time but especially for a courtesan. The cat, symbol of promiscuity is another reference to the original painting which actually includes a dog, the symbol of fidelity. On the other hand, the servant, portrayed in old-fashioned clothes, looks “forgotten” in this piece - and in our creation as well - which is another symbol of Manet's critical view of society.
This profanation of the idealized nude provoked a violent reaction and labeled Manet as a rebel and father of Modernism, as others followed his painting-style and themes: a contemporary subject depicted in a modern manner.
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