Olympia by Manet


Manet is remembered as one of the leading artists of Impressionism, however, he was also a part of the Realism art movement and depicted scenes of modern life.

olympia in context

Manet’s Olympia has been the subject of numerous outrage and has shocked viewers, as he depicted the nude female figure of a prostitute with various suggestive objects alluding to this.

Historical overview

When Olympia was exhibited at the salon, many were shocked that this painting was not painted according to standard conventions that dictated depictions of mythological or biblical figures.

conservatism to modernism

Manet’s Olympia became a turning point painting from the 19th century. It broke the artistic rules and portrayed subject matter and style in a new fashion. Realism developed during this time, depicting everyday life in art.

subject matter

The central figure, who, as the title suggests, is Olympia. We see her reclining on a chaise longue. Standing towards the right side is a maidservant presenting Olympia with a bouquet of flowers.

WHO WAS olympiA?

The woman reclining was Victorine-Louise Meurent, who was a French model and painter. She was a model for several of Manet’s paintings, including the famous Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe.


If we look at the color and depiction of light in Manet’s Olympia there is a stark difference to the academic paintings that preceded it.


Manet painted in loose brushstrokes and if we look closely, we will notice how his application of paint appears seemingly haphazard and rushed.


The fact that Manet barely utilized linear perspective gives the painting a flatter appearance and brings the entire scene closer to us. This is often compared to Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (1534).

symbolic references

In Olympia, the entire scene might be a symbolic reference. In Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534), we see a sleeping dog near the foot of the chaise longue, which creates a different ambiance compared to Manet’s black cat.

MANET and feminism

Olympia has become a widely debated painting in Feminism, specifically regarding the subject of the male gaze and the role of the maid. Manet’s maid Laure also modeled for him in another work.

causing a scene

Manet caused a scene with his modern subject matter placed in a traditional space filled with Classical expectations. This did not stop him from winning a spot in the Salon’s exhibition, even after so many ridiculed his painting.