In 1865, at the Salon in Paris, the official exhibition space for the art academy, there were many, many paintings of nude women, so why did this one by Édouard Manet cause such an uproar? The public hated this painting! One critic wrote that Olympia’s “body has the livid tint of a cadaver displayed in the morgue; her outlines are drawn in charcoal and her greenish, bloodshot eyes appear to be provoking the public. No, never has anything so strange been hung on the walls of an art exhibition.”
To understand the reason this painting was so sensational, one has to appreciate that there were rules to follow when painting nude women, the most important of which was that the lady must flatter the viewer. A “come-hither” demeanor is preferred. She has to want it.
Here, Manet does what he does so well, which is to cast a viewer in an entirely different role. Who brought her the flowers? Well, it looks like you did, John, and judging from the look on her face and the way she firmly covers herself, you are going to have to open your wallet some more.
And then, of course, all of that jewelry, the flowers, and the shoes make this nude appear rather naked.
More Images of Olympia