|In 1865, partly because of encouragement from Baudelaire
who admired the painting, Manet decided to exhibit his 'Olympia' at the
salon. This large canvas had been executed in 1863, in the same year in
which Manet had presented his 'Lunch on the Grass', and been violently
attacked by the official critics and the usual public of the Salon. Yet
'Olympia' is certainly one of the artist's most important works, since
it sets him definitively apart from academic tendencies and shows him to
be at the source of modern painting, in which the pictorial organisation
of the painted surface takes precedence over the subject.
The theme was indeed in the tradition of Titian's famous 'Venus' or Goya's 'Majas', but the public of the period sneered at such unusual features as the black cat and the black servant. However, it was the style of the painting even more than the subject which shocked spectators used to the china-smooth surfaces and bland colours of Cabanel's 'Birth of Venus', which had just been bought by the Emperor Napoleon III.
'Olympia' is painted in frankly contrasting colours, reminiscent of the clear-cut forms in the Japanese prints Manet admired; but the simple modelling, the wide, vigourous brush-strokes, were contrary to the principles taught at the Academy: yet this picture was to serve as a model for the young painters in revolt against official art - the Impressionists. 'Olympia' remained, unbought, in the artist's studio and was acquired by his widow in 1890, thanks to a public subscription organised by Claude Monet, then presented to the Luxembourg Museum.
It was also thanks to Monet, with encouragement from Clemenceau, that 'Olympia' was finally exhibited in 1907 in the Louvre, in the States Room, opposite Ingre's 'Great Odalisk, thus symbolising Manet's official consecration.
Notes courtesy of Helene Adhemar, Head Curator, and Anne Dayez-Distel, Curator, of the Louvre Museum in a guide to The Jeu de Paume Museum Ministere de la Culture et de la Communication, Paris, 1980.