We are glad to inform our site guests that the temporary exhibition at the Hermitage presents “Olimpia” by Edouard Manet.
The topic of a naked woman is supported by “Danae” of Titian, twenty engravings based on the works of famous Venetian and French artists of the 17-19th centuries and the drawing by Francois Boucher from the State Hermitage Collection. Formally all the masterpieces from this temporary exhibition could be united into one genre – nu.
The model for Manet’s painting was Victorine Meurent. Her appearance did not answer the standards of those times and the tastes of the bourgeois society. The image of the naked woman sitting on the undone bed with an Afro-American servant nearby and the black cat was not supported by any Greek or Roman myth and was the opposite to nu style works people got used to.
Olimpia is a prostitute that sells her love for money and the servant is holding a big bouquet of flowers from Olimpia’s client. One more character – the black cat – adds some special connotation to the painting. The French word “chatte” (a cat) was a nickname for prostitutes in Paris. Titian “gave” his Danae a white dog symbolizing marital fidelity. In his “Olimpia” Manet introduced the black cat and put it exactly at the place where Titian’s white dog is.
Manet introduced “Olimpia” at Art Salon in 1865. It became the reason for a great scandal and was considered by the public to be a provoking challenge. According to Salon rules any painting chosen for it by the jury could not leave the exhibition before its end. Even the guards were put near this painting as the angry public could damage it. Two years later Manet returned to variations of “Olimpia” in his engraving and also included it as a background detail into Emile Zola’s portrait. The portrait became a present for the writer who was trying to defend the artist’s reputation. “Olimpia” was never exhibited again and nobody bought it when Manet was alive. The canvas stayed in the master’s workshop till the end of his life and was not bought even at his after death sale.
The exhibition “Edouard Manet. Olimpia. The topic and its variations” was arranged by the State Hermitage and Orsey Museum and supported by Russian and French Ministries of Culture.