AMY J. BARRY, Special to The Day
In 1863, French artist Edouard Manet painted two works that challenged traditional concepts of painting - "Olympia" and "Dejeuner sur l'herbe" and sparked the Modernist movement in art.
Since Manet first painted these landmark works, other artists have responded to both the subject matter and painterly techniques in their own art works.
In honor of the 150th anniversary of Manet's two masterworks, an exhibition of more than 30 paintings, prints and photographs - ranging from 1863 to the present, based on or inspired by the historic paintings - are on view at Yale School of Art's 32 Edgewood Gallery in New Haven.
Included is Manet's etching of "Olympia" and works by Paul Cezanne, Raymond Duchamp Villon, Sally Man, Stephen Prina, Carrie Mae Weems and Paul Gauguin, among others.
Carol Armstrong, Yale professor of the history of art, organized the exhibition in collaboration with Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art.
Choosing 30 out of the hundreds of works that have riffed on Manet's two paintings over the last century and a half was one of the biggest challenges of the exhibit.
Armstrong says she and Storr and two graduate art history students made a list of everything they already knew about Manet and then did their research.
"I started to Google wildly to enter Manet and 'Olympia' or Manet and 'Dejeuner sur l'herbe' - and 1863 - to see what came up," Armstrong explains. "Then we had to put together a list of what was available and what we could afford."
Although there are earlier works, the concentration is contemporary-mostly 1980s and afterwards, she says.
Armstrong and Storr both point out the great variety of responses to Manet's works in the exhibition.
"The pop culture dimension of this has been true for a long time," Storr notes. "The first thing Cezanne did (in response to "Olympia") was an out-and-out caricature. But there's also been this serious (aspect) of race and gender issues."
Armstrong also arranged a conference that was held in late September in conjunction with the exhibition featuring talks by art scholars, art historians, and artists.
"I love 19th-century art," she says. "I have a kind of commitment to making sure people keep on loving it and making sure there's a connection between the art of the past and the present, between the arts world and the academic side of things."
AN ARTIST'S RESPONSE
Canadian artist Manon Elder chose to put a man in place of the woman in Manet's painting "Olympia."
A portrait of a reclining nude woman with her hand covering her genitals, "Olympia" shocked audiences when it was unveiled in 1865, not so much because of the nudity but the figure's confrontational gaze and details that suggested she was a prostitute.
Elder asked herself the question, 150 years later, "If Olympia became Olympio would it cause such a stir?"
She made her painting to scale and the exact size as the original by sketching a projected an image of the painting onto a canvas. The only thing she changed was the model and says that it took her five years to find someone with similar characteristics to Manet's model, Victorine Meurent.
"When all was said and done, I felt the impassiveness that she showed was so shocking - women are there to please or seduce," Elder says, "but men are supposed to be passive in the way they gaze. Because that is a seductive glance and a seductive pose, I wanted to see how it feels for a male to be doing that."
Elder says she came up with the idea for the painting years before she knew that Yale would be doing an exhibit and symposium - at which she spoke - and that she didn't even realize that it was the 150th anniversary of "Olympia."
"It was just fate that I would choose to do it," she says.
"This is the first time Manet's (original) painting has left France in 150 years (to be in a show at Toledo Museum of Art) and the French haven't celebrated the painting," she points out. "It's remarkable that an American university has chosen to celebrate a French painting and make this amazing show."