Surprisingly, Manet’s Olympia was accepted for the Salon, but it immediately caused controversy and heated argument. Most who saw the painting were appalled. What was being depicted was quite clearly a modern prostitute, presented with unabashed Courbet-like realism. The paintings dark background, coupled with Olympias few decorative adornments, such as a necklace and bracelet, only served to heighten her nakedness.
And the painting was rife with references to sex, beyond Olympias come-hither stare.
A black cat, a removed slipper (lost innocence), a bunch of flowers and an orchid placed jauntily in her hair, all alluded to the sexual act.
It was another bad day at the Salon for Manet. Although he wasn’t completely without supporters.
The year 1863 was a break through one for Modern Art. The Salon de Refusee, Manet’s Olympia and the first stirrings of an artistic counter-culture, all helped to create an environment where the ambitious young painters living in and around Paris could break free.
There was one other important event that happened that year, which was also the have a profound impact on the Impressionists.
Charles Baudelaire, a French poet, writer and art critic, produced an essay called the Painter of Modern Life.
During tumultuous times, there is often an individual, an intellectual talisman, who watches events unfold and extract the essence of what is happening into a text, which then provides a handbook for the oppressed.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.