Madam Odalisque and Lady Olympia

August 23, 2017 Cultural

Madam Odalisque and Lady Olympia Throughout history the subject of human body and nudity has always been a topic that artists have taken into consideration when painting, depending on the time period that they were living in and style that they were working in. By looking at the history of art through the 19th century, it is very clear that this subject was by far the most important and most consistent topic throughout this specific time period.

Other subject matters such as still life, everyday life, landscapes, biblical and mythical stories and etc at some point were the most important subjects for artists to paint due to the political, social, economical and religious status of the city or country that they were living in. However as these topics changed, the human figure still remained an interesting subject for artists to draw and paint. Two of the most well known paintings that cover this subject matter are the nude figures Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and the Olympia by Edouard Manet.

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Although each of these paintings were painted in different styles and time periods, both were used by the artists to rebel against the classical art style. Grande Odalisque painted in 1814 by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, is one of the first well known paintings that represent the Romanticism style. Romanticism was a style that was created due to the cultural idea of freedom. This ideal freedom was not only political, social and religious, but also included the freedom of thought, feelings, emotions and imagination.

Romantics believed that everyone had a right of freedom and that the way to achieve it was by living on ones imagination, emotion and feelings rather than thinking. Since Neoclassicism was a style that was based on reasons, facts and knowledge, Romanticism was somewhat a rebel against Neoclassicism. Having studied art under the hand of a neoclassical master such as David, Ingres was a true neoclassical painter who at first did not accept modern artistic styles such as Romanticism. But as years went by, elements of romanticism started appearing in his paintings.

Grande Odalisque was one of these paintings that was criticized harshly due to the elements of Romanticism that Ingres had combined within his neoclassical style. In terms of technique and style, Ingres had followed the footsteps of great masters such as Puossin for his clear and tight outline (Poussiniste), Parmigianino for his generally cool color scheme and Raphael for his figure’s face and elegance; but in terms of storytelling and theme he had adapted the romanticism theme which was exotica.

Ingres chose to paint his figure as an Odalisque (a slave woman or a concubine in a harem mostly from the Turkish culture) who was from the “Orient”, an unknown and unseen place which to the French people was exotic and romantic. Since he had painted his figure in such way, “the artist made a strong concession to the contemporary Romantic taste of the exotic” (gardeners 615). Ingres was not the only artist that had been labeled as a rebel against the period’s known artistic style due to his nude figure painting Grande Odalisque.

Edouard Manet was also known as an artist who crossed the boundaries of the French Academy and French society with his modern realistic looking paintings. Manet was known as “The Father of the Modern Art”. The reason for having such a title was not only because of the modern life subject matters that he painted or because of the modern technique that he had in terms of applying paint on the canvas (the color patch technique) but also because of the idea he had about paintings not being an “illusionistic window” like the Renaissance period and actually being presented to a viewer as a piece of canvas that has paint on it.

In other words, he wanted the viewers to see paintings as a two dimensional surface and not three dimensional pictures. With having such mindset, Manet’s work was always being critiqued harshly by the French Academy and the public. One of his best known paintings which like Ingres’s Grande Odalisque received very brutal critiques was his Olympia done in 1863. Manet not only wanted to portray a modern life scene, but also wanted to make social commentaries throughout his work. In Olympia was he was able to make a comment about the French social and sensual lifestyle.

Olympia is a painting of a reclined nude figure that appears to be a prostitute because of the title that he had given it (during the 19th century, a professional prostitute was called an Olympia). According to the critics Manet’s figure was not known as a “nude” figure, but was known as a “naked” figure due to the thin black ribbon that she had tied around her neck, the golden bracelet that she had around her arm, the fashionable slippers that she was wearing and finally the Orchid lower that she had on the side of her hair. Critics not only gave Manet a hard time because of his subject matter and the story that he was narrating with it, but also gave him a hard time because of the “un-finished” look that he had given to his painting by using the color patch technique. Ingres and Manet were very different in terms of style and technique, but despite their differences, their paintings were very similar in terms of design, composition, subject matter and storytelling.

By looking at Grande Odalisque and Olympia one can clearly see that both artists where rebels against the art academies due to the subject matter that they had chosen to paint. Both Ingres and Manet were classically trained artists that due to different reasons, had decided to make some changes within their classical training. Both artists chose to picture women who were known for lust and love.

Both positioned their figures in a reclined pose with the difference that Ingres’s figure is leaning on her side exposing her back, where as Manet’s figure is leaning on her back and exposing all of her body without any shame. Both artists gave their figures a seductive and alluring gaze that looks right at the viewer. Both gave their figures accessories in order to make them look more professional and appealing. Despite their similarities and differences both works of art convey a clear statement by the artist.

Ingres clearly made a statement about injecting feelings and emotions into paintings and allowing the viewers imagination to complete the painting, and Manet clearly made a statement about the modern life which one aspect of it was prostitution, a subject matter that wasn’t unheard to anyone but never portrayed. In both cases, both artists, despite their skills and talents were labeled as rebels due to the changes they made in their paintings especially Grande Odalisque and Olympia. Resources 1. Class Notes 2. Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art through the Ages. United States of America: Baxter. Print. 3. Oxford Art Online


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