Monet roared with laughter. As did Sisley. Manet did not. He got up, made his excuses and went back to his studio.
He knew Cézanne’s picture very well. Leroy was correct to reference Manet’s earlier Olympia, the picture that had caused such a scandal at the 1865 Salon. Cézanne’s version was indeed a direct response to that painting: an homage to Manet. And to be fair to Leroy, Cézanne’s version is a good deal more sketchy than Manet’s, and at first glance could be mistaken for a New Yorker-type cartoon.
It has none of the rigour and structure that would underpin Cézanne’s later work, but once you begin to look at it the artist’s genius starts to become apparent.
As with Manet’s painting, Cézanne’s Modern Olympia is lying naked on a bed, attended by a dark-skinned servant – possibly also naked – standing behind her and preparing to place a white sheet over her body.
Cézanne has his Olympia lying right to left – the mirror image of Manet’s (and Titian’s for that matter) – on a white-sheeted bed that is raised like an altar. This Olympia is much smaller, allowing Cézanne to add an onlooking male figure (a client perhaps?) in the foreground.
The man is sitting on a chaise longue, dressed in a black frock-coat. His legs are crossed. In his left hand he holds a walking stick as he sizes up the vulnerable beauty who has only a tiny dog to protect her (no match for his stick).
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.