Olympia by Edouard Manet is a classic impressionist oil painting by this famous French artist. Learn more about the artwork in this extensive article.
Further down the page there are also many other great paintings from the artist's career with further discussion alongside, including the likes of Bar at the Folies Bergeres, The Fifer, Luncheon on the Grass (Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe), White Peonies and Secateurs, White Peonies and Secateurs and Boating. Olympia was placed into the hands of the French nation as far back as 1890 after some fundraising allowed the painting to be purchased for the country's benefit. The Olympia painting is now held at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris where it is displayed at it's impressive original size of 130.5 by 190 centimetres (51 x 74.8 in).
The success of Edouard Manet's paintings such as Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass are how they offered honest, accurate stories of people which previously had been adapted by artists to give a more palatable and socially-acceptable appearance. This honesty was unusual for it's time in the mid 19th century and such originality is always likely to bring considerable amounts of highly positive and critical feedback from academics. Olympia has been compared to many historic paintings of a similar style including Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian, Sleeping Venus (c. 1510), also known as the Dresden Venus by Giorgione and La maja desnuda (circa 1797–1800), known in English as The Naked (or Nude) Maja by Francisco de Goya. The success of this painting has led it to become the most studied work from Manet's career although there is also considerable media exposure that surrounds his other classic, Luncheon on the Grass.
The two versions of the Olympia painting included above are different colour versions of the original to offer a choice between a more accurate reproduction and another with brighter colours that many would prefer. Both images are linked through to a large Edouard Manet prints online gallery where you can buy your own copy to hang in your home at really affordable prices that easily beat anything you might find in your local shops. Bar at the Folies Bergeres features the Folies Bergère nightclub in Paris and was actually the final painting to come from Manet, arriving in 1882, just a year before his death. It has managed to establish itself as one of his four or five finest paintings and offers a highly memorable portrait of a lady, whose role in the painting has long been discussed. SOme believe the woman was a prostitute but this is still unknown.
Whilst Bar at the Folies Bergeres holds Manet's typically French impressionist style throughout there is some evidence in the painting that the bar was actually filled with British expats or tourists at that time because of the large amount of British beer which can be seen at the front of the bar, that would not have interested native drinkers of that time. Fifer was painted by Manet in 1866 and is held in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris where a great collection of the artist's work can now be found. Indeed, as a key part of the French impressionist movement, the artist is regarded as having played an exceptional role in the rise of one of his country's most important and influential art movements of any period.
The Fifer shows Manet's interest in offering full length figures combined with explosive and pleasing colours but with the portrait placed up against truly neutral backgrounds that would allow the portrait to take the full and undistracted attention of the painting's viewer. The painting stands within Manet's normal approximate sizes at 160 cm × 97 cm (63 in × 38 in) and has proven to be a popular reproduction in recent years because of the traditional style of the subject's uniform and the bright colours in which it is displayed.
Luncheon on the Grass which had an original French title of Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, was created by Edouard Manet in 1862-1863 around the same time that he produced Olympia and so this can be considered perhaps the most prolific period of his whole career. Luncheon on the Grass was seen as a highly controversial painting at this time, but not for the fact that it featured nude characters as that had been common within art for centuries. It was actually because of the accuracy and honesty of the depiction which unsettled some academics.
Luncheon on the Grass was a bold an exciting painting at the time which refused to conform to norms of that era and openly depict women in a nude but relaxed situation with fully clothes men. The models themselves included Manet's own wife which underlined both of their commitment's to this painting and his career in general. Manet was to later produce a portrait of artist Morisot as well, although this lady was painted in a far more formal style.
White Peonies and Secateurs is currently the most reproduced of any Manet painting which is a surprising statistic and probably due to the fact that paintings of flowers always prove popular in the modern era, particularly when in the impressionist style that French artists are so well known for. White Peonies and Secateurs features exactly that in a still life but bright painting that is undeniably beautifully presented and offers another style and subject within Manet's varied repetoire. Absinthe Drinker is a relatively darker painting by Manet featuring the topic of Absinthe with several other artists have addressed around this time including post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh. Another full length portrait for Manet here, but this time with much darker contrasts which make the painting different to the likes of The Fifer where in this case the viewer must look closer to learn more about the portrait subject rather than simply admiring bright impressionist tones.
Boating by Manet offers a classic image of 19th century life which remains exceptionally loved today making this art work one of Manet's most popular. Claude Monet was another artist who spent considerable time covering the 19th century habits of small boating trips within his work. One possible reason for the popularity of these scenes in the modern era is the calming feel that most possess because of the combination of the slower pace of life that was seen at that time plus the beauty of the natural surroundings and the peace that they would normally bring.
Berthe Morisot portrait offers a great depiction of one of the most important female artists of the 19th century who played an important role in French impressionism as well as including a female perspective on topics for this art movement which otherwise may have been missed. Manet, Monet and Morisot were close as friends and the three would regularly crop up in each other's paintings. It is pleasing to see that even in this period Morisot was respected as an artist and an individual and that here the portrait doesn't simply reduce her to a simple but attractive woman.
Grand Canal Venice offers a charming portrait of this famous Italian city which Manet had specifically visited to create his own majestic impressionist paintings under the influence of this famous place. Manet would have seen the likes of JMW Turner and Canaletto create some of their career's finest paintings within Venice and so it always seemed understandable to visit this location and include it into his career. For Manet, his paintings here did not really make up any of his finest paintings but this particular work above was the best that he produced during his spell here.
Claude Monet Reading features exactly that and underlines Manet's relationship with impressionist founder Claude Monet. Most images found of Monet are of him later in life so this painting is quite interesting if only for showing him at a younger age. Portraits of the famous masters like Monet and Van Gogh can often be more informative than the series of self-portraits which they would produce themselves as they offer a different insight and viewpoint on the individual from a new perspective. Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe is the original French name for Luncheon on the Grass and remains a controversial but inspired painting that marked Manet as someone to watch at the same time that he produced Olympia which was similarly targeted for criticism by traditional academics who now would seem extremely old fashioned.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.