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Olympia is one of the most valuable artworks of the Musée d'Orsay.

The painting caused a massive scandal when it was first shown.

It's now considered a pillar of modern art.

Manet is drawing inspiration of a portrait of Venus by famous Renaissance artist Titian.

But he replaces the goddess Venus with a prostitute!

The subject matter shocked the audience.

Indeed, while it was acceptable to represent naked women at the time if they were symbols (ex : Virtue) or goddesses (ex : Venus), it would have been unacceptable to represent naked women closer to home.

Most people would have recognised the model for who she was.

Indeed courtesans (whose clients were very wealthy, influential clients) were extremely famous in 19th century Paris.

They appeared on postcards, owned vast properties...

One, Cora Pearl, was even rumored to have charged a million for her company!

The public hated the painting.

They judged the subject vulgar and immoral.

They also hated Manet's style, with his bold brushstrokes and color blocks.

"People throng in front of Manet's Olympia as they would in front of a body in the morgue," wrote an art critic.

For others, like Zola, however, it was wonderful :

"When our artists give us Venuses, they correct nature, they lie. Manet asked himself why lie, why not tell the truth; and introduced us to Olympia, this fille of our time, whom you meet on the sidewalks".

For many people today, the painting remains provocative.

But Olympia's gaze, like Manet, is defiant and unapologetic - as though daring the viewer to come closer!

La Joconde, de Vinci (1519)

Next:

The Luncheon on the Grass

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