odalisque painting manet
Leran how the initials of an artist’s name can appear anywhere. Not all is what it seems.
Manet, Odalisque (1868)
Manet depicts her without romanticism – her strong angular body is portrayed with harsh light and colour contrasts and appears more serviceable than voluptuous – but also with sympathy. Her expression is both bold and sad; her’s is a daring that comes from knowing you have few choices. Yet, wearing only a velvet choker and dangling a yellow mule from a bare foot, she is all business, returning the viewer’s gaze with a bored confidence that would have made many squirm: she is sizing up the client, not the other way around. The black cat (often a symbol of lewdness in art) with its tale suggestively raised and the crumpled bed (the result of the previous client?), bring home the pragmatic nature of this transaction.
The painting’s flatness, inspired by Japanese wood block art, serves to make the nude more human and less voluptuous. Olympia’s body, as well as her gaze, is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out to the viewer as her maid offers flowers from one of her male suitors. Although her hand rests on her leg, hiding her pubic area, the reference to traditional female virtue is ironic; a notion of modesty is notoriously absent in this work.
As with Luncheon on the Grass, the painting raised the issue of prostitution within contemporary France and the roles of women within society.
Grande Odalisque attracted wide criticism when it was first shown. It is renowned for the elongated proportions and lack of anatomical realism. The work is owned by the Louvre Museum, Paris which purchased the work in 1899.
Stemming from the initial criticism the painting received, the figure in Grande Odalisque is thought to be drawn with “two or three vertebrae too many.”   Critics at the time believed the elongations to be errors on the part of Ingres, but recent studies show the elongations to have been deliberate distortions.  Measurements taken on the proportions of real women showed that Ingres’s figure was drawn with a curvature of the spine and rotation of the pelvis impossible to replicate.  It also showed the left arm of the odalisque is shorter than the right. The study concluded that the figure was longer by five instead of two or three vertebrae and that the excess affected the lengths of the pelvis and lower back instead of merely the lumbar region. 
The model for Olympia, Victorine Meurent, would have been recognized by viewers of the painting because she was well known in Paris circles. She started modeling when she was sixteen years old and she also was an accomplished painter in her own right.  Some of her paintings were exhibited in the Paris Salon. The familiarity with the identity of the model was a major reason this painting was considered shocking to viewers. A well known woman currently living in modern-day Paris could not simultaneously represent a historical or mythological woman. 
In part, the painting was inspired by Titian’s Venus of Urbino (c. 1534), which in turn derives from Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (c. 1510). The Titian has two fully clothed women, presumably servants, in the background. Léonce Bénédite was the first art historian to explicitly acknowledge the similarity to the Venus of Urbino in 1897.  There is also some similarity to Francisco Goya’s La maja desnuda (c. 1800).