Edouard Manet Olympia 1863
Following on from last weeks Art School, I wanted to share a painting that presents a very different view of femininity - Manet's Olympia. This is so much more than a beautiful picture, looking beyond the perfectly balanced light and dark, gentle hints of colour and texture in the brush strokes, there is a reclining nude courtesan confronting the viewer with her gaze. When this work was first exhibited it was met with so much controversy that it had to be moved into a corner above a doorway, where it would not attract too much attention. The public were used to seeing the nude female figure represented in a very different way - as the object of a male's gaze, as a classical Greek Goddess, as a figure that was innocent and to be enjoyed. Olympia however shows a modern (of the time) women, in a 19th century setting, with all the symbols in place supporting the suggestion that she is a lady of the night, staring down whoever looks upon her.
It is difficult to think of an equivalent in today's internet, image obsessed world. While millions of women have now taken complete ownership of their image, so many more are still at the end of the male gaze. This is such a complex topic and I could go on for so much longer, but in the interest of brevity I will stop here, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!