In this famous painting, Manet showed a different aspect of realism from that envisaged by Courbet, his intention being to translate an Old Master theme, the reclining nude of Giorgione and Titian, into contemporary terms. It is possible also to find a strong reminiscence of the classicism of Ingres in the beautiful precision with which the figure is drawn, though if he taught to placate public and critical opinion by these references to tradition, the storm of anger the work provoked at the Salon of 1865 was sufficient disillusionment. There is a subtlety of modelling in the figure and a delicacy of distinction between the light flesh tones and the white draperies of the couch that his assailants were incapable of seeing. The sharpness of contrast also between model and foreground items and dark background, which added a modern vivacity to the Venetian-type subject, was regarded with obtuse suspicion as an intended parody. The new life of paint and method of treatment in this and the other works by Manet that aroused the fury of his contemporaries had a stimulus to give to the young artists who were eventually to be known as Impressionists. In a more general sense, they rallied to his support as one heroically opposed to ignorant prejudice and their own ideas took shape in the heat of the controversy.
Olympia was the gift of a group of art lovers and painters to the Luxembourg in 1890 and was transferred to the Louvre in 1908.
Thanks to the BMW Foundation, the WebMuseum mirrors, partners and contributors for their support.