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Bernstein, J.W. (1996). Olympia: a study in perversion—a psychoanalytic pictorial analysis of Edouard Manet's painting. Free Associations, 6(1):56-72.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):56-72

Special Feature: Art and Psychoanalysis

Olympia: a study in perversion—a psychoanalytic pictorial analysis of Edouard Manet's painting

Jeanne Wolff Bernstein

‘Anude’, T. J. Clark wrote in The Painting of Modern Life ‘could hardly be said to do its work as a painting at all if it did not find a way to address the spectator and give him access to the body on display. He had to be offered a place outside the picture, and a way in, and be reassured somehow that this way was the right one, leading to the knowledge he required’ (1985, p. 132). Edouard Manet's celebrated painting Olympia certainly offers the spectator both a place outside the painting and a way into it, but the spectator departs from this visual journey with anything but a feeling of reassurance. Bewilderment, shock, and outrage would be more accurate descriptions of the spectator's response to Olympia. At least this was the predominant reaction in 1865 when Manet exhibited Olympia for the first time at the Salon of Paris. ‘Never had a painting’ wrote Louis Auvray in La Revue Artistique en Literature, ‘excited so much laughter, mockery and catcalls as this Olympia. On Sundays in particular the crowd was so great that one could not get close to it, or circulate at all in Room M.’ (cited in T. J. Clark, 1985, p. 89). Olympia was variously described as filthy and dirty, ‘waiting for the bath or the laundress’, or her body as yellow and diseased ‘ready for an inspection at the morgue’.

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