fifth state of five
Manet, a pioneer in depicting modern life in a modern style, was a formative influence on the whole Impressionist movement. He based this 1867 etching on his earlier painting Olympia (1863), one of the most notorious works in the history of art.
Olympia shows a prostitute reclining on a chaise. She boldly stares at the viewer with a self-confidence, even arrogance, at variance with accepted notions of depicting the female nude, which was often presented as a passive object for the male gaze. The black alley cat, depicted in a defiant posture with its back arched and its long tail raised, clearly stood for promiscuity. In exaggerating the size and rigidity of the tail, Manet alludes to its phallic significance.
Manet related his nude to Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which the former artist had copied as a student. Yet this relationship to Titian’s work was a witty and ironic reminder of values that Manet rejected by creating an image of the unconventional nude. It is not a goddess to be worshipped nor a nymph but a frankly human figure. The model for Manet’s Olympia was Victorine Meurent. After exhibiting Olympia at the 1865 Salon in Paris, Manet reinterpreted the work the following year, choosing it as the subject of two etchings he made to illustrate Emile Zola’s pamphlet. One etching was eventually printed. In this etching, Manet focused his attention on the principal elements of his earlier painting in an even flatter, more grotesque manner.
nudes; social commentary; servants; portraits; female; interiors; African
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