Manet’s Odalisque

This etching of an Odalisque by Manet could easily be interpreted as just a new variation on a theme that had been popular for some years, an oriental woman reclining. However, check out the fly whisk she is holding: it is a large paintbrush with a phallic handle. 

She may be about to "paint" the surface of the image we are looking at, as though her "canvas" were a mirror. Thus Manet implies that this woman is the creative painter in his mind and the androgynous source of his fertility. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, Odalisque (1868)

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Besides, the head supported by the bent arm is a pose common to images of the thinking artist, as in Delacroix's Michelangelo in His Studio from a few years before.

See below for conclusion

Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, Michelangelo in His Studio (1849-50)

Click image to enlarge.

This unexpected transformation of a popular theme of the day into an image of the fertile mistress in Manet's mind is something you should always look out for. Good questions in front of any artwork are: Is there a figure posed like an artist? Do any objects look like paintbrushes, palettes or an artist's material? 


Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.