Manet’s modernist depiction of the female nude as seen in Olympia sent shockwaves throughout the art world and forever changed the way we view nudes. Camille Lemonnier described the nude as such in 1870 “ The nude was modesty only if it is not a transitory state. It hides nothing because there is nothing to hide. The moment it hides something it becomes prurient, for in reality it shows it all the better. In order to stay virgin the nude in art must be impersonal and must not particularize; art has no need of a beauty spot upon the neck or a mole on the hindquarters. It hides nothing and shows nothing: it makes itself seen as a whole…” 1. Breaking from this view of nudes, Manet created Olympia from the inspiration of a live model, but also portrayed her in a way in which she is hiding herself from the viewer in an almost shameful manner. Manet freed himself from the strict techniques and structures of the classical nude to create the female body as he saw it, driven by both imperfection and sexual implication. Olympia exudes both masculine and feminine characteristics that, when combined, leave an uneasy and almost grotesque feeling with the viewer. In this way Olympia is seen as less than a woman because of what she does with and how she displays her sexuality. Perhaps the most offensive quality of the painting may not be the image itself but the realistic light in which it is painted, as Manet said of the painting “ I painted what I saw”. By covering herself, some suggest that this is the cause of most if not all of the painting’s offensive nature.1 “Sex is not something evident and all of a piece in Olympia; that a woman has a sex at all-and certainly Olympia has one-does not make her immediately one thing, for a man to appropriate visually; her sex is a construction of some kind, perhaps the inconsistency of several”
McGuire, Holly, "Olympia, Reinventing the Nude" (2010). Student Research Papers. 5.
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