The famous painting Olympia was shown at the Salon of 1865 whichcaused a scandal. The public was shocked by the work and the judgment of the critics was even harsher than it had been two years earlier with painting Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe: "The corrupt Olympia," wrote the newspapers, was an "odalisque with a yellow belly, a disreputable model unearthed who knows where" and Manet was "the buffoon of the Exhibition." Once again the artist had deliberately set out to create a sensation, and had declared: "the Salon is the real battlefield; it is there we have to fight." But Manet's work was not just a provocation aimed at the bourgeois morality of the public and the aesthetic conventions of the Salon. It was also a dialogue with his beloved Renaissance and Spanish models, with Titian's The Venus of Urbino and Goya's Maya (Maja Desnuda). Certainly the non-classical , even ungainly nude, the contemporary elements inserted, as in Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbein a traditional composition (such as the slippers), were features that disconcerted the public, as did the cat arching its back, which took the place of Titian's little dog and had a deliberately mocking flavor. But from the formal viewpoint Manet's research is extremely rigorous: the composition is very well thought-out, with a perfect equilibrium created by the contrasting poses of the two women, where the converging diagonals of the busts are balanced by the vertical line of the hanging in the background. The powerful chiaroscuro, almost erasing the forms of the body, makes the handling of colors stand out even more strongly: this is based not just on the evident contrast between light and dark tones, but on a vast range of shades of white, from the brilliance of the sheets and the wrapping of the flowers to the warmer tints of Olympia's body, the bedcover or the servant's dress, which are matched by the variety of blacks and browns in the background. The work was immediately regarded as Manet's masterpiece, and the artist proudly reproduced a photograph of it, between a print by Utamaro and an engraving of Velazquez's Bacchus,in the portrait he painted of Emile Zola (Portrait of Emile Zola)(Musee d'Orsay, Paris).
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