The Viewer Viewed: A Study Into The Psychology Of

4385 words - 18 pages

The Viewer Viewed: A Study into the Psychology of the Gaze in Manet’s Olympia and Other Works

S Walters


Impressionism can be classified in two ways. The first is the artists who exhibited in the Impressionist Exhibitions between 1874 and 1886 and the second is the loose collection of artists who shared certain ideological beliefs about the representation of the modern world. For the perposes of this essay, the term refers to the wider use.

A literal approach was taken to the question; ‘Discuss the nature of the gaze in the work of artists you have studied’. The main focus of this essay will be a study into the psychology, sociology and anthropology of the gaze of the representation of Olympia. Despite the fact that Greenberg singles out Dejeuner sur l’Herbe as the first Modern painting, Olympia has been selected as the central theme. This is due to the huge body of work that exists on Olympia and that it fulfils the requirements of my argument.

Because of the nature of the topic and the vast array of approaches that could be taken with regard to Manet, it was impractical to attempt to include other artists of the period. Degas and Caillebotte, are both essential to the discussion of the gaze in relation to nineteenth century French painting however, with a limit of 2500 words it was felt necessary to explore the four works by Manet in detail. Theories such as feminism could have been applied to the four paintings, however, given the central theme was to question the nature of the gaze in relation to sociological and anthropological theories, it was not possible within the space.

There is no such thing as an impartial historian and there is no attempt to be one here. A partisan approach was taken and is clearly visible throughout the text.


“The auguste jeune fille is a courtesan, with dirty hands and wrinkled feet; she is lying down, wearing one Turkish slipper and with a red cockade in her hair; her body has the livid tint of a cadaver displayed in the morgue; her outlines are drawn in charcoal and her greenish, bloodshot eyes appear to be provoking the public, protected all the while by a hideous Negress. No, never has anything so… strange been hung on the walls of an art exhibition.”
‘Ego’ in Le Monde Illustre 1865

“You needed a nude woman and you chose Olympia, the first-comer. You needed some clear and luminous patches of colour, so you added a bouquet of flowers; you found it necessary to have some dark patches so you placed in a corner a Negress and a cat.”
Emile Zola Edouard Manet 1867

In 1960 Clement Greenberg referred to Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe [1863] as the first Modern painting. He singled out this painting because Manet painted it in such a manner as to be true to [or honest about] the surface of the canvas; he made it impossible for the viewer to forget they were looking at a painting. Manet painted Olympia in 1863 but chose to wait until the Salon of 1865 to publicly display it. Why? What is it...

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