Olympia by Édouard Manet - 1863 - 190 x 130 cm Musée d'Orsay Olympia by Édouard Manet - 1863 - 190 x 130 cm Musée d'Orsay


Oil on canvas • 190 x 130 cm
  • Édouard Manet - 23 January 1832 - 30 April 1883 Édouard Manet 1863

Today, we present one of the most famous and essential paintings in Western Art: Olympia, by Édouard Manet. Manet reworked it in the traditional theme of the female nude by using a robust and uncompromising technique. For the first time in Western art history, he also didn't depict the female nude who was supposed to be an unreal goddess like Venus, but instead as a Parisian prostitute. “Olympia” was a term used to refer to prostitutes during the 1800s in France.

This (according to contemporary critics) profanation of the idealized nude, the foundation of academic tradition, provoked a violent reaction. The critics attacked the "yellow-bellied odalisque," whose modernity was nevertheless defended by a small group of Manet's contemporaries with the French writer Émile Zola at their head. 

Despite the numerous formal and iconographic references to art history classics Manet made, the picture portrays a truly contemporary subject's breathtaking cold and prosaic reality.

Who were the depicted women? The main protagonist wasn't a prostitute; her name was Victorine Meurent, a French model and painter. She is also depicted in the famous The Luncheon on the Grass. Her paintings were also exhibited at the Salon in Paris, which were accepted on several occasions.

We don't know much about the "servant," but thanks to the curator Denise Murrell, we know that her name was Laure, and she lived at 11 Rue de Vintimille, which was only a short walk away from the artist’s studio in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris. Since the abolition of slavery in France, there had been a growing working-class black population, and many settled in Manet’s neighborhood. Laure was depicted in other Manet paintings as well.

How do you feel about encountering one of the most famous masterpieces in Western art?

P.S. If you're up for more classic masterpieces, please check our 2024 DailyArt calendars, and be prepared for the next year! Today we continue our Black Friday promos, which means that we offer you:

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P.P.S. Back to Manet, discover 10 of the most scandalous nudes in art history! Olympia is one of them! Learn more about depictions of Black models in European art, including another portrait of Laure by Édouard Manet.