Make a list of the characteristics(Expressions, costumes, postures, etc) of three modelsLaure, Olympia-Victorine Meurent and MartheStill Thinking about Olympia’s Maid
Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby
On February 4, 1849, only weeks after his seventeenth birth
day, Edouard
Manet landed in Rio de Janeiro after a twomonth sea journey. The teenager, here shown at age fourteen, had embarked on the voyage to make himself eligible
to retake the naval exam that he had failed, since only those
who crossed the equator were given a second chance
(Fig. 1). On board ship Manet had the opportunity to deploy
his juvenile artistic skills. As he informed his mother, he had
been enlisted to make caricatures of the officers, including
the captain, who asked him to teach drawing to his shipmates
on their return voyage.1 The eye exercised by the teenage
Manet in Rio was therefore both that of a voyager and an artist, albeit an amateur. Manet dutifully described what he
could and could not see in Rio in a letter to his mother:
For the artist, however slight, [Rio] offers a particular
cachet; in the street one encounters only negroes and
negresses; Brazilian men seldom leave [their houses] and
the Brazilian women even less so; one sees them only
when they go to mass or in the evening after dinner; they
place themselves at their windows and once they perceive
that they are being watched they immediately retire.
In this country all negroes are slaves; all these unfortunate people appear stupid [abruti]; the power that whites
have over them is extraordinary; I saw a slave market, a
somewhat revolting spectacle for us. . . .
Negresses are for the most part nude to the waist; some
have a scarf attached to their neck and falling to their
chest; they are generally ugly [laides], but I have seen
some who are somewhat pretty; they dress themselves with
care. Some make turbans; the others very artistically
arrange their curly hair and almost all wear skirts adorned
with monstrous flying petticoats.2
Manet repeated these observations in another letter to his
cousin, specifying that “the population is three quarters
negro or mulatto; this part is generally hideous [affreuse]
except for some exceptions among the negresses and mulattas, the latter are almost all pretty.”3
In his letters from Rio de Janeiro, Manet is frustrated by
the invisibility of the elite he calls Brazilian and also “white.”
He writes that “Brazilian women” are indolent (mou), lacking
energy, and not the least lighthearted, as they were reputed
to be. Instead, Brazilian women—and by this he means white
women—seemed to him prudish and stupid (b^e te). But Manet’s letters are more concerned with the alienating spectacle
of a society consisting mostly of slaves. Like the earlier French
artist Jean-Baptiste Debret, former student of Jacques-Louis
David, Manet contrasts the inaccessibility of indolent white
women glimpsed through windows to the omnipresence of
black slaves (Fig. 2) And his letters conflate the appearance
of the enslaved with the institution of slavery: sometimes the
slaves themselves, sometimes the system of slavery are called
revolting, frightening, stupid, and repugnant. The naked
Negresses—whose nudity he likely exaggerates—are, he
writes, “generally hideous.” Of course, we must take into
account his addressees: writing to his mother and family, he
professes a repugnance he may or may not have felt. Still,
Manet was willing to admit to the attractiveness of a minority:
the exceptions dress themselves with care, make turbans, and
artistically arrange their curly hair. Manet, the dandy fascinated by fashion, already associated dress with the pretty few
among dark women.4
In these letters of February 1849, Manet was writing only
nine months after France’s second abolition of slavery that
took place during the Revolution of 1848.5 Manet was thus
able to look on slavery in Brazil with a righteous Republican
eye. As of April 27, 1848, France no longer permitted slavery
in its colonies; it had never officially allowed slaves to exist in
France itself. Slaves brought to the metropole had always purportedly become free.6 The revolutionaries of 1848 treated
the second abolition of slavery, its righting of Napol
wrongful reinstatement of slavery in 1802, as a high priority.
The ending of slavery was one of the Second Republic’s very
first acts, an act that confirmed its allegiance to the first Revolution’s legacy.
In midcentury France, slavery and class could be spoken in
the same breath. Historian Louis Chevalier long ago alerted
us to the ways the members of the working class were continually racialized as brutal barbarians, comparing, for instance,
“the most degraded part of the poor classes [to] the Negro
of the African coast.”7 Abolitionists before 1848 had to
counter arguments that slaves enjoyed a better life than
France’s laborers. In their 1844 petition calling for the abolition of slavery, eight thousand French workers eloquently
Slavery degrades the possessor as much as the possessed.
In order to obey the great principle of human fraternity
we have made our voice heard in support of our unfortunate slave brothers. We also feel the need to protest vigorously, in the name of the working class, against the
supporters of slavery who dare to claim . . . that the lot of
French workers is more deplorable than that of slaves.
Whatever are the vices of the current social organization
of work in France, the worker is free. . . . The worker
belongs to himself; no one has the right to whip him, to
sell him, or to separate him violently from his wife, children and friends. 8
The petitioners rightly understood that the fundamental
question posed by slavery is not the condition of labor but
whether one’s person belongs to oneself or to another. To
be a slave is to be conceived as less than human. Personhood,
not labor, was the decisive issue. Could black men and
women be conceived as owning their own persons?
After the 1848 Revolution’s abolition of slavery, free blacks
entered representation more frequently in the illustrated
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D

1 Edouard
Manet, age fourteen, 1846, daguerreotype (artwork
in the public domain; photograph provided by Wikimedia
press than in the Salon. 9 Cartoons foregrounded the novelty
of their control over their own financial transactions. Appearing just three weeks after the abolition of slavery on April 27,
1848, a cartoon by Cham (Charles Am
ee de No
e) highlights the novelty of a black worker holding money in his
hand and expressing astonishment at the high price presumably named by the top-hatted white man: “What! Three
sous?. . . But I am telling you that I am a free negro!” (Fig. 3).
The joke rests on the contradiction that personal freedom
brings with it the cost of everything. Questions about a world
without slavery had come to pivot on how liberated blacks
would comport themselves and manage their own finances.
Who were these black persons once they emerged from the
anonymity and “social death” to which they had long been
subjected as slaves?10 What did it mean to see them inside
rather than outside the economy of paid labor?
After 1848, so the revolutionary rhetoric went, the
oppressed would wield political and economic power. So,
too, would former slaves, whose bodies finally became their
own property—and, as in so many revolutions, those frightening, radically redefined bodies came into visibility as male.
The workers’ petition on behalf of abolition was emphatically
patriarchal: “The worker belongs to himself; no one has the
right to whip him, to sell him, or to separate him violently
from his wife, children and friends.” Subsequent to the Revolution of 1848, the images of free blacks examined the relation between slavery and labor, slaves and workers, as a
negotiation among men.
2 Jean-Baptiste Debret, detail of p. 64 from Costumes du Br e sil,
1820, watercolor. Biblioth
eque Nationale de France, Paris
(artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by BnF)
Manet’s Olympia, painted in 1863 and exhibited at the
Salon of 1865, focuses on the modern, post-Revolutionary
condition of white and black bodies, but it redefines them as
female (Fig. 4). Here, I turn back to this most famous nineteenth-century French painting in order to think further
about the relationship between French workers and freed
slaves in a picture that cites but modernizes the conventional
iconography of the white female nude and a darker, sometimes older, sometimes partly clothed subordinate attendant,
whether in early modern paintings such as Titian’s Venus
d’ Urbino of 1538 or nineteenth-century Orientalist pictures
such as L
eon Benouville’s Odalisque of 1844.
Olympia’s maid has flickered in and out of visibility in art
historical scholarship. In his preface to the 1999 revised edition of The Painting of Modern Life, T. J. Clark remembers a
friend’s disbelief: “For God’s Sake! You’ve written about the
white woman on the bed for fifty pages and more, and hardly
mentioned the black woman alongside her!”11 Clark
acknowledges that “the snake of ideology” has “always a
deeper blindness in reserve”; he quickly adds that Manet’s
Gilman’s generalizations have been widely accepted and
uncritically repeated; indeed, it is revelatory that although
Race-ing Art History of 2002 puts Manet’s Olympia on its cover,
it simply reprints Gilman’s essay from seventeen years earlier.
Thankfully, around the same time, a few scholars convincingly contested his claims about Baartmann. In a carefully
researched essay of 1999, Africanist Zoe Strother argued:
Baartman’s contemporaries in London and Paris classed
the Hottentot neither as “black,” nor as sexy. In fact
Baartman’s success lay in her status as a figure of the antierotic. [She was] reassuring to a European audience. . . .
Far from representing Baartman as a lascivious creature,
her display acted as an apotropaic device mocking the
threat of interracial marriage and relationships.17
3 Cham, “ Comment! Trois sous? . . . Mais puisque je vous dis que je
suis un n e gre affranchi!” from Le Charivari, May 21, 1848, 3
(artwork in the public domain)
picture also deployed “the fiction of ‘blackness,’ meant predominantly, . . . as the sign of a servitude still imagined, as
existing outside the circuit of money—a ‘natural’ subjection,
in other words, as opposed to Olympia’s ‘unnatural’ one.”12
Since Clark’s book was first published in 1985, Olympia has
been revisited by numerous scholars, even adorning the
cover of an anthology entitled Race-ing Art History, but the discussions of racial difference in the painting are remarkably
rare.13 Ironically, the relative inattention to racial difference
in Olympia has largely been due to scholars’ acceptance
of Sander Gilman’s bold, ahistorical generalization that,
for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europeans, “Black
women were ontologically the essence of animality and
abnormality.”14 If Clark in 1985 suffered from an ideological
blind spot that left the maid in Manet’s Olympia invisible, Gilman that same year spotlighted the black female body as a
naked specimen in an essay that linked her to Saartjue Baartmann, the Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited as the Venus
Hottentot in both England and France during the first decades of the nineteenth century. Amply illustrated, Gilman’s
essay trained a clinical, fetishizing gaze on Baartmann’s genitalia and buttocks, repeating the violence to which she had
first been subjected.15 For Gilman, Manet’s Olympia served as
evidence that the heightened, deviant sexuality of black
women intensified anxieties about the abnormal sexuality of
the white prostitute. Stressing “Manet’s debt to the pathological model of sexuality,” Gilman argued, “It is the black female
as the emblem of illness who haunts the background of Manet’s Olympia.”16
In 2001 sociologist Zine Magubane likewise insisted that Gilman got it wrong: Europeans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not consider the Khoikhoi people
“broadly representative of Africans”; nor were the Khoikhoi
considered “black,” because their skin was tawny yellow.18
If Baartmann’s tragic history has inspired an extensive
body of scholarship, the status of the black woman in Manet’s
Olympia has received far less attention. Exceptions include
African-American artist Lorraine O’Grady’s seminal and
polemical article of 1992, which does not, however, closely
analyze the painting itself, and feminist art historian Griselda
Pollock’s important essay of 1999, the year of Clark’s preface
to his new edition.19 Pollock closely attends to the black
woman in Olympia, concluding that Manet’s “painting is an
anti-Orientalist or de-Orientalising work. The painting of the
head wrap is the sign which indexes . . . Orientalism.” For Pollock, recognition of an Orientalist frame for Manet’s picture
“gives us a way to locate this figure . . . within metropolitan
modernity and not as either blank darkness (Zola) or exotic
attribute of venal sexuality (Gilman).”20
Pollock’s desire to situate Manet’s black model in modern
Paris is productive, but her emphasis on the counterpoint of
Orientalism diminishes the relative import of France’s actual
colonial history and long-standing links to the so-called new
world. The latter history allows us to see slavery not as a timeless Orientalist harem fantasy but as a specific French institution rejected only fifteen years before the painting of Olympia
and only nine months before Manet’s voyage to Brazil. Here
I am testing how productive it is to see Olympia as staging a
Creole scene that made visible France’s former colonial reliance on slavery, as well as its recent enfranchisement of its
colonies’ slaves and redefinition of all black persons as paid
workers. How does our understanding of this painting
change if, against Clark in 1999, we see the black woman in
Olympia as less the sign of “a ‘natural’ subjection” “existing
outside the circuit of money” than as a newly enfranchised
member of the working class?
Magubane has made a similar argument about the historically different circumstances of Baartmann’s exhibition in
The discussions concerning the Khoikhoi at the Cape thus
paralleled the legal furor over Baartmann’s exhibition.
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D

4 Edouard
Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas, 511/ 8 £ 751/ 4 in. (130 £ 191 cm). Mus
ee d’Orsay, Paris (artwork in the public domain;
photograph by Patrice Schmidt, Ó RMN–Grand Palais, provided by Art Resource, NY)
The question of the ownership of labor power took center stage
in both. The immediate concern of the African Association [for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior of
Africa] (which sued Baartmann’s captor, Henrik Cezar,
on her behalf) was to ascertain whether she owned her own
After 1848 black women in France did indeed own their
own bodies and labor; they signified not just racial and
sexual difference, which they surely did, but also class.
Sexual anxieties are clearly at issue in contemporary
responses to the presence of a black woman in Manet’s
Olympia—Gilman was, of course, right to this extent—but
equally significant is the related history of slavery and its
abolition. How does thinking about the entry of blacks
into the economy of wage labor after 1848 differently illuminate Manet’s painting?
While French representations of postslavery blacks betray an
anxiety about the relative socioeconomic status of white and
black men, Manet’s economic transaction with a black
worker once back in Paris was with a woman. The young man
who had witnessed the spectacle of slave labor in Brazil made
a notation in a notebook of 1862:
“Laure, very beautiful negress, rue Vintimille, 11, 3rd
Now age thirty, Manet noted Laure’s address in order to contact her; he specifies that she lives on the third floor (the
fourth floor in American usage), likely one of the cheaper
apartments near the top of an apartment building. Pollock
assumes that Manet met Laure in the Tuileries Garden,
where she cared for the children of a fashionable family,
because his earliest painting of a black woman is Children in
the Tuileries, likely painted in 1862 (Fig. 5).23 In this picture,
the young child seated before a turbaned, brown-faced
woman is certainly dressed in fancy clothes. Still, such a reading relies on the presumption that Children in the Tuileries is
an accurate document, scarcely the painter’s general
approach. Even Manet’s radically unlike pictures from the
early 1860s are notable for their obvious artificiality, uneven
attention to detail, and aggregate compositions. Whether
naturalistic in pretense, as in Concert at the Tuileries of 1862, a
picture flaunting the selective gaze of the fl^aneur whose
roaming eye is materialized in the inconsistent focus trained
by Manet on a crowd, or unabashedly staged, as in Luncheon
on the Grass of 1863, a studio confection pasting together discrepantly sized figures, Manet’s paintings challenge naturalistic illusion. We do not believe that the depicted persons
necessarily shared a time and place.

5 Edouard
Manet, Children in the
Tuileries, ca. 1861–62, oil on canvas,
147/ 8 £ 181/ 8 in. (37.8 £ 46 cm).
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School
of Design, Providence, 42.190 (artwork
in the public domain; photograph by
Erik Gould, provided by Museum of
Art, Rhode Island School of Design)
Yet Manet was reported to have said, “I can’t do anything
without the model. I don’t know how to invent.”24 The artifice of his paintings was a matter of composition, the aggregation of studies from life that left traces of their disparate
assembly, not the whole-cloth invention of figures. I am
inclined therefore to believe that Manet relied on Laure to
model for him during these years. He may have sketched her
working as a nanny in the Tuileries and written down her
address, or he may have met her in other circumstances and
had her pose for the governess in his studio, all of this assuming that we actually see Laure in this hastily sketched dark
woman without facial features. If so, she was painted three
times by Manet between 1862 and 1863: first, in the scene in
the Tuileries, then in a portrait known in the twentieth century as Laure and presumed to be a preparatory sketch for
Olympia (Fig. 6), and finally, as the maid in that picture.25
However, I admit we cannot be certain: what we do know is
that Manet identified Laure as a contact and noted that she
was “a very beautiful negress” in a notebook of 1862 and that
he painted a black woman three times around the same time.
I will call his model Laure.
“Very beautiful” matters, I think. In nineteenth-century
France it was a commonplace to call black persons ugly and
unfit for painting. In 1849, for example, a critic of FrançoisAuguste Biard’s The Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies
(April 27, 1848) had disingenuously claimed that “these
Negroes to whom it was no doubt right to restore freedom,
will always show up badly as principal figures in a picture.”26
Manet himself had referred to the black people he saw in
Brazil as “hideous,” even frightening (affreuse connotes
both), although he admitted that there were exceptions.
I think we could not be sure whether Manet found Laure
beautiful from the three extant pictures. He has difficulty
painting Laure’s face in the portrait; his brushwork is uncharacteristically clumsy and uncertain. The consummately facile
painter falters here as he attempts to establish what one
might call a pictorial intimacy with her embodiment; an intimacy, that is, at the level of painting practice. To render her
dark face, he first applied brown of a medium value and then
tried to establish form with black outlines and a darker
umber pigment that carves out her cheek and forehead. This
deep brown appears too dark, an overlaid mark rather than
an illusion of shadow. Similarly, he resorts to white to lighten
a patch on her forehead and chin to suggest their convexity.
He appears to have mixed some red and white into the
brown to lay down the circles of her cheeks. Manet, known
for his elimination of middle values, is fussing here, and we
sense a desperate, additive building up of wet pigment, slick
oily patches on patches rather than, for example, the remarkably decisive and economical suggestion of form in the thinly
painted face of Olympia (posed by his favorite model, Victorine Meurent) (Fig. 7). In Laure’s portrait, he made a dark
complexion by overlapping one opaque color onto another,
an effect all the more apparent because the neck and shoulders are sketched so thinly over the light-colored canvas as to
appear luminous. The sheer clumsiness of Laure’s face contrasts with Manet’s assured handling of her colorful head
wrap, off-the-shoulders cotton blouse, and briefly suggested
necklace and earrings. Even in Brazil, the painter had associated the aesthetic appeal of black women with their careful
“artistic” dress. Painting cloth was Manet’s forte; jewelry was
easily reducible to a few quick strokes. His entirely new challenge was to paint a black face and body.
But Manet was a quick learner. In Olympia, Laure’s face is
easily ignored, so absorbed is it by the dark ground, but it
repays closer attention (Fig. 8). Now her dark face is treated
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D

6 Edouard
Manet, Laure, 1862–63, oil
on canvas, 24 £ 195/ 8 in. (61 £ 50 cm).
Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli,
Turin (artwork in the public domain;
photograph provided by Pinacoteca
Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin)
smoothly and tonally, not as an accretion of separate wet, relatively thick patches of color. A single, evenly applied, warm
dark brown has been laid down continuously from the top of
her head to her neck and shoulders and subtly blended with
a darker tone modeling the far side of her nose and the
receding planes of her cheeks, forehead, and undersides of
her eyes. Only the most minimally lightened strokes suggest
the protrusion of her nose, the rounding of her upper eyelids, and the convexity of her chin. And Laure’s mouth has
become gorgeous, a tour de force, the lower lip glistening
and red, carefully observed, irregular in shape, with a soft
dent at left and a brilliant white highlight at right that is
repeated on the long drop of her exquisite coral earring.
Now the head wrap is subordinate to her face and earring;
her scarf is more loosely and thinly painted than the precise,
carefully delineated, thick white collar that beautifully frames
Yet the effect of Laure’s presence, the way we typically read
her, is as a subservient foil, a woman that even the keen eyes
of Manet scholars such as T. J. Clark, Michael Fried, and
Carol Armstrong could all but ignore.27 Manet’s painting has
often been discussed as the picture of one woman, the white
woman who gives the painting its name. Cat, Negress, shawl,
slippers: these are Olympia’s accessories. Yet Laure importantly inflected how the white woman Olympia, posed by
Victorine Meurent, was read by Manet’s contemporaries.
Whatever the origins of the model herself, the figure in
Manet’s picture brought the colonies to the metropole.
She heightened viewers’ awareness of racial difference
and the colonial history of slavery, including art historical
precedents, not only Orientalist paintings but also the
many pictures of light-skinned Caribbean women accompanied by dark slaves (Fig. 9). French images of slave
societies in the Caribbean and Americas often juxtaposed
supine white Creole women and their standing, sometimes half-naked, black slaves, as can be seen in the title
page illustration to Charles Expilly’s Les femmes et les moeurs
du Br e sil (The Women and Customs of Brazil) published
in Paris the same year that Manet painted his picture
(Fig. 10).28

7 Edouard
Manet, Olympia, detail showing Olympia’s face.
Mus ee d’Orsay, Paris (artwork in the public domain;
photograph Ó RMN–Grand Palais, provided by Art Resource,
Manet’s painting can be seen to stage a Creole scene
wherein the white woman’s pampered indolence and implicit
sexual perversity results from black slavery, an image pervasive
in France. M. L. E. Moreau de Saint-M
ery’s influential late
eighteenth-century portrait of Caribbean society described
Creole women as at once lazy, imperious, indulged, and highstrung. Creoles, he told his readers, were spoiled by
the habit of being surrounded by slaves and needing only
to look to have their way cleared before them. No tyrant
ever had as much unremitting homage nor more constant
worshippers than a creole child. . . . Young creoles should
be raised in France, because they are free there from the
despotism that the service of slaves has made into a habit
and taste.29
For Moreau de Saint-M
ery, France was the place where Creoles would stop being corrupted by their tyrannical rule
over slaves. Manet moved that primal Creole scene of inequity to Paris, replacing the indolent sensuality of the despotic Creole with Olympia’s unsentimental alertness in a
painting that nevertheless sustains her priority and command. Just three years before Manet painted Laure as a foil
to a prostitute, a publication entitled Ces dames, physiognomies
parisiennes declared that courtesans highly valued their
Negro servants who “obeyed” and “belonged” to them,
thereby connoting both the conditions of slavery and the
eighteenth-century iconography of black women as accessories.30 Here is evidence of the lingering French fantasy of
slavery as possession.
Manet himself made slavery the surround to his picture.
The accompanying poem by his friend Zacharie Astruc provided a heavy-handed colonial frame for Manet’s painting:

8 Edouard
Manet, Olympia, detail showing Laure’s face. Mus
d’Orsay, Paris (artwork in the public domain; photograph
Ó RMN–Grand Palais, provided by Art Resource, NY)
When, weary of dreaming, Olympia wakes,
Spring enters in the arms of a gentle black messenger,
it is the slave, like the amorous night,
who comes to make the day bloom, delicious to see;
the august young girl in whom the fire burns.31
The verse adorning Olympia is well known and long scorned.
Manet’s admirers have been dismissive, rightly alienated by
Astruc’s well-worn, inflated language, so unlike the taut matter-of-factness and contemporaneity of Manet’s painting.
Overlooked is the title of Astruc’s poem: “La fille des ^ıles,”
which can be translated as “Girl or Daughter of the Islands,”
but also prostitute. For the French, “the islands” would have
been the West Indies (or Antilles).
Like the framing poem, Salon criticisms and caricatures of
Olympia betray Caribbean associations. The colonial images
erupting in reviews are heterogeneous, stemming from different regions and encompassing not only race but also tropical diseases, animals, minerals, and flora. Take, for example,
the especially hysterical criticism by Geronte (Victor Fournel), which confuses rather than conflates the two women:
this Hottentot Venus with a black cat, exposed completely
naked on her bed like a corpse on the counters of the
morgue, this Olympia from the rue Mouffetard, dead of
yellow fever and already arrived at an advanced state of
decomposition, would be impertinences to the public, if
they were not above all colossal ineptitudes, much more
burlesque than serious and convincing.32
Note the purposeful confusion of referents here. The passage
alternates between African curiosity and white Parisian prostitute, colonies and metropole, death in Paris and death in
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
9 Agostino Brunias, The Linen Market, Santo Domingo, detail, ca.
1775, oil on canvas, 191/ 2 £ 251/ 2 in. (49.6 £ 64.8 cm). Carmen
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit at Museo ThyssenBornemisza, Madrid (artwork in the public domain; photograph
Ó Colecci
on Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza)
the West Indies from yellow fever. Race, sex, bodily degradation, and death are geographically sited, but dislocated by
the passage’s bewildering circuit of switches. Here, there,
here, there, both repugnant, the grotesqueness of each
amplified by the illogic of their conjoining. And all along,
Geronte is talking about Manet’s painting, not actual women,
inviting yet another level of misreading.
Another critic, Am
ee Cantaloube,” makes the issue of
racial degeneration raised by the “negress” explicit:
And the negress? and this black cat, wouldn’t you call it
the vision of a nightmare? It is horrible!
My faith, monsieur, they assure me that they feel the
same in America, and with the help of progress, our great
grandchildren will look like them.33
The word “progress” suggests that miscegenation is a
modern phenomenon horrifying Americans and French
alike. In the following lines, past art is sarcastically
10 Title page of Charles Expilly, Les femmes et les moeurs du Br e sil,
Paris: Charlieu et Huillery, 1863 (artwork in the public domain;
photograph provided by BnF)
deployed to underscore the horrors of racial and sexual
Never has one seen a similar spectacle with a more cynical
effect: this Olympia, a sort of female gorilla, a grotesque
in rubber outlined in black, apes on a bed, in a state of
complete nudity, the horizontal attitude of Titian’s Venus:
the right arm rests on the body in the same fashion,
except for the hand, which is flexed in a sort of shameless
contraction. On the other side of the bed a negress, “a
sweet black messenger” brings her, upon waking, spring
in the form of a bouquet that hardly appears to flatter the
sense of smell.34
Astruc’s gentle black messenger brings spring in a form that
stinks. Olympia is a female gorilla, a grotesque in rubber outlined in black, aping Titian’s Venus. Repeating the strategy
of Geronte, Cantaloube attributes the colonial imagery of
racial difference to the white woman.
11 Bertall, “ Manette, ou la femme de
l’ e b e niste, par Manet,” from Le Journal
Amusant, May 27, 1865, wood
engraving. Collection of the author
(artwork in the public domain;
photograph by Julie Wolf)
12 Cham, “ ‘ Vite un m e decin!’ Le vomito negro s’ e tant d e clar e chez les
portraits de M. H e bert,” from Le Salon de 1865 photographi e , 2nd ed.,
Paris: Arnauld de Vresse, 1865, lithograph (artwork in the public
domain; photograph provided by Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine
Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia)
Pierrot, surely another pseudonym for Cantaloube, published a review in another journal that repeated the simian
and rubber imagery: “A woman on a bed, or, rather, some
form or other, blown up like a grotesque in rubber; a sort of
monkey making fun of the pose and the movement of
the arm in Titian’s Venus, with one hand shamelessly
flexed.”35 In 1985 Clark translated the French word caoutchouc as India rubber, but in 1863 the term would have
connoted South America, where the plant is native. Rubber was not transplanted to the east until the end of the
century, when an Englishman first shipped plants to
India. Rubber, furthermore, is naturally white (not black,
as we imagine, because of the decision by tire makers to
dye it that color): thus, Cantaloube’s image of a white
rubber body outlined in black.
Add to these colonial images—slavery, the Hottentot
Venus, yellow fever, gorilla, monkey, rubber, and unpleasant
smell—the reference in two caricatures to Olympia as an

eniste,” or wife of an “
eniste,” a word meaning cabinetmaker but also ebony worker, as it derives from ebony, the
hard black wood from West Africa and Asia, used, for
instance, to make black piano keys (Fig. 11).36 Pertinent
here is the disturbing fact that ebony was a euphemism for
the human cargo on slave ships.37 In his book Le Salon de
1865 photographi e , Cham, whose caricature of Olympia refers
to the birth of the little “Ebony worker,” also mocked Ernest
ebert’s painting of an Italian girl in shadowy woods incongruously entitled “Black Pearl” (Fig. 12). The title surely
inspired Cham to suggest her dark skin tone in Italian:
“Quick, a doctor!”
Vomito negro is being declared in the portraits of
M. H
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
13 Isaac Cruikshank after George
Woodward, A Morning Surprise, “Why,
who the Devil have we got here!! —It is
only me Massa,” ca. 1807, hand-colored
etching, 83/ 8 £ 115/ 8 in. (21.3 £ 29.4 cm).
British Museum, London (artwork in the
public domain; photograph Ó The
Trustees of the British Museum)
“Vomito negro” can be translated as “black vomit,” but it also
connotes “negro vomit” and was a common name for yellow
fever, the disease that decimated Napol
eon’s troops in StDomingue. No surprise that there is a virulent racism consistently running through Cham’s work: he was the grandson of
the comte de No
e, the former owner of Haitian revolutionary
hero Toussaint Louverture.38
The Salon reviews and caricatures of 1865 suggest the
mobility of colonial signifiers and the rapidity of these chains
of association. In H
ebert’s case, mere painted shadows on a
Mediterranean model lead to a foreign expletive, disfiguring
blackface, and West Indian disease. Darkness, specifically,
blackness, rapidly contaminates the Salon with the horrors of
racial difference, the specter of racial degeneration, and the
sublimated history of colonial defeats. Of the colonial signifiers—the Hottentot Venus, yellow fever (vomito negro),
gorilla, monkey, ebony, and rubber—only the last, surprisingly, was white in color; the rest are black and introduce a
contaminating blackness.
Clearly, the black woman in Manet’s Olympia importantly
contributed to the Salon critics’ hysterical animosity toward
his white nude. A sign of slavery and also racial difference,
the black maid exacerbated contemporary anxieties about
the female sexuality so flagrantly yet opaquely signaled by
the picture. A lurid caricature such as Isaac Cruikshank’s A
Morning Surprise of about 1807 (Fig. 13), made in a different
British colonial context, bears a striking compositional similarity to Olympia and betrays how potentially threatening was
the sexuality of black women to “the moral and physical wellbeing of the white male body,” to cite Kay Dian Kriz.39 Yet
Manet’s critics discussed the two women, not the offstage
men under threat. Reviewers repeatedly chose to confuse the
two figures and their attributes rather than to conflate them;
their strategy was alternation, not assimilation. The caption to
Honor e Daumier’s picture of viewers gaping at an unseen
painting also makes unclear the identity of the picture’s
actors by switching between their different attributes
(Fig. 14) :
“Why the devil is that big red woman en chemise called
“Perhaps it’s the name of the cat.”
Here the caption plays havoc with the painting one cannot
see, pretending that there is only one female figure in Manet’s picture: a “big woman” identified as red, not redhead (“rouge,” not “rousse”), wearing a blouse. The
caption therefore better describes brown Laure in her
pink dress and red head scarf than naked Oympia, even
as it simultaneously draws attention to the white woman’s
red hair. In Daumier’s economical black-and-white lithograph, color won’t stay put and clarify racial difference.
In Manet’s reviews, the questions were purposefully befuddling: Which woman was red? Which looked like a gorilla?
Which appeared to be blown up?
Geronte, the critic who called Olympia both a Venus Hottentot and a victim of yellow fever, made the conjoining of
the two women into some monstrous freak even more
In looking at this Olympia, compared in the exhibition
booklet (livret) to the day delicious to see, and qualified
by the lyric poet Manet called to his aid, as “an august
young girl in whom the fire burns,” makes me remember
the hawkers at public carnivals where a distinguished gentleman at the door promises you extraordinary, incomparable, unique marvels in elegant language, and where
once you enter, you are shown a cow with two heads, one
of which is made of cardboard.40
“A cow with two heads, one of which is made of
cardboard”! In Olympia, which head, we might ask, is the
14 Honor e Daumier, Devant le tableau de M. Manet, “Pour quoi
diable cette grosse femme rouge et en chemise s’appelle-t-elle
OLYMPIA? —Mais mon ami c’est peut ^
etre la chatte noire qui
s’appelle comme ça?” originally published in Le Charivari,
June 19, 1865, from Croquis pris au Salon par Daumier, 1865, pl. 9,
lithograph, 9 £ 71/ 4 in. (22.9 £ 18.4 cm). Portland Art Museum,
Portland, Oregon, Gift of Lisa Andrus (artwork in the public
domain; photograph provided by the Portland Art Museum)
fake? And if, in Clark’s words, “falsity was what made [the
courtesan] modern,”41 what should we make of Geronte’s
reading of the painting Olympia as a two-headed hoax?
Does each figure falsify the other, proving one is not a
real courtesan or odalisque and the other is not a real
slave? Is this where the picture’s modernity lies? Would
the falsity, the modernity, of Olympia be as apparent without the “monstrous” falsehood of her pairing with an
equally inauthentic slave?
Manet’s painting was not the only cultural production
prominently putting a black woman on view in 1865. Indeed,
the Salon opened only two days after Giacomo Meyerbeer’s
opera L’ Africaine premiered on April 28, 1865. Although the
slave who gave the opera its name was a South Asian woman
bought at an African slave market, caricaturists ran wild
depicting her as black. Cham, not surprisingly, mocked the
director’s infatuation with his immense statuesque black
woman wrapped in a head scarf (Fig. 15): “In love with his
work, the new Pygmalion always thinks he hears a director
banging at the door to abduct his African woman, and he
gets ready to defend her from daily danger.” Despite its
mockery, Cham’s print alerts us to the potential value of the
black woman in Paris. Laure may well have been a desired
model, although this does not necessarily mean that she was
a well paid. We do not know. She was nonetheless a woman
who was renumerated for her services. When Manet shifted
15 Cham, “ Amoureux de son oeuvre, le nouveau Pygmalion croit
toujours entendre un directeur cogner a sa porte pour lui enlever son
AFRICAINE, et il s’ appr^
e te a la d e fendre au p e ril de ses jours.”
eque Nationale de France, Paris (artwork in the public
domain; photograph provided by BnF)
her from the role of governess in a picture of the Tuileries to
that of prostitute’s maid, he simultaneously placed her in
quotes as a slave attendant and inserted her into the tawdry
space of bodies for hire.
Yet even as he moved Laure from the context of child care
to that of prostitution, Manet suppressed her sexual availability.42 Through placement, coloration, and oversize costume,
the painter subordinated the black woman to her bold,
naked, white counterpart. We do not see Cruikshank’s
aggressive sexual predator or the genitalia of the Hottentot
Venus. Nor do we see Olympia’s maid as another prostitute,
despite the fact that black women had long been prostitutes
in Paris and also appeared in explicitly pornographic commercial photographs.43 A decade earlier, Manet’s close friend
Nadar had twice photographed Marie l’Antillaise, once barebreasted, in photographs intended for sale (Fig. 16).44
Manet, by contrast, suppressed the maid’s sexual availability,
distancing her from a pornographic clich
e. Laure is neither
a repugnant caricature nor an enticing lure. The painter
made it possible not to see Laure as an object of sexual
desire. We do not imagine her partly unclothed like Nadar’s
Marie or Eug
ene Delacroix’s Aspasie, the “mixed-blood”
woman whom he painted three times in similar, quicky
painted oil studies. Nor does she resemble the half-naked
slaves in Creole scenes, or the redolently sensual, half-naked,
dark servants to white harem women in Orientalist painting.
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
Instead, she is the modern, fully clothed, discreet workingclass black attendant to the white sex worker.
In 1868, the Goncourt brothers made the same move when

they jotted down notes for their novel La fille Elisa
about the
fall of a young prostitute, daughter of a midwife, and twice
placed a “negress” at the site of prostitution. What began as a
notation about the voice of a brothel’s barker shifted to that
of a prostitute’s friend: “Barker for a brothel, not at all a
hoarse voice, voice of a false Creole negress, with crystalline
and breaking notes like a broken harmonica . . . make the
friend of the whore a negress, study the type and place her in
the scene.”45 Once again, falsity is located at the site of sex
and contact between black and white bodies. Here, however,
it is not the courtesan or prostitute who is false but the
“friend of the whore,” the “Creole negress,” a subordinate
black woman born in the colonies, not Africa. The word
“Creole” itself invites the confusion of black and white. The
French primarily used the term to refer to white Europeans
born in the colonies, but it could also be applied to blacks
born there.46 What Creoles of both races shared was an alienation from their ancestral origins and culture. Creole was
where dislocated Africans and Europeans met; where black
slaves served spoiled white mistresses and all were thereby
corrupted. Creole, in short, meant slavery. And also falsehood: French, but not; African, but not. Geronte had recognized a long-standing inauthenticity.
Another Laure
In Paris, black women entered a wage-labor economy; they
were being paid to work as models and prostitutes. They
were also being paid to be governesses and wet nurses. As we
have seen, Manet may have met Laure working in this role.
For the Salon of 1865, a black woman was also paid to model
as a nanny. While the Paris Op
era performed Meyerbeer’s
L’ Africaine, the Salon of 1865 featured not just Olympia but
also Jacques Eug
ene Feyen’s all but forgotten Le baiser enfantin, or The Childlike Kiss, a large painting measuring approximately three and a half feet by five feet, only a bit smaller
than Manet’s canvas (Fig. 17).47 In Feyen’s painting, two
women pose as nourrices, “nannies” or wet nurses. Given the
infants’ young age, they may have been seen as the latter.
After all, in the 1860s at least four thousand live-in wet nurses
worked in Paris.48
Unlike Olympia, Feyen’s academic painting attracted
little critical attention in 1865, although I have located two
reviews and two graphic reproductions (Fig. 18).49 Here is
L’ Illustration:
Monsieur Feyen found [in Childlike Kiss] a gracious composition, perhaps a bit big, but arranged and painted with
care. Two nannies, one blond, Alsatian with a black cap,
the other, a strong negress with white teeth and yellow
eyes, are seated on a bench that supports a trellis. The first
holds a small girl of about eight months, dressed in a
white blouse, and the second a small boy of a year and a
half, as strong as the small one is delicate. The two babies
hug, or rather it is the little girl who with her nose in the
air presses the cheek of the boy with her right arm and
kisses him on the lips. The surprised toddler lets his
slightly muscular left arm fall on the length of the
16 Nadar, Marie l’ Antillaise, 1856–59, collodion salt print, 97/ 8 £
71/ 2 in. (25 £ 19 cm). Mus
ee d’Orsay, Paris (artwork in the public
domain; photograph provided by Art Resource, NY/R
des Mus
ees Nationaux)
negress’s arm; he feels himself sliding off the knees of his
nanny. The small girl, by contrast, is supported without
any effort on her part.50
What a narrative! At its center is French manhood, the sturdy
baby boy kissed by the eager little girl and slipping off the lap
of the strong Negress with white teeth and yellow eyes who
fails to secure him! L’ Illustration was a journal that consistently attempted to appear objective, reproducing the painting quite accurately without any of Cham’s invective; yet the
celebratory review betrays its author’s anxiety: yellow eyes! As
if Feyen was Delacroix or Balzac! But while Balzac dedicated
“Girl with the Golden Eyes” to the Romantic painter, this
critic resorts to the word “yellow,” thereby connoting disease—yellow fever—rather than golden treasure.51 Colonial
anxiety leaks out despite L’ Illustration’s moderation and
despite Feyen’s splendid portrait of a vital, beaming black
woman, so lovely in her blue dress with a crisp white collar,
dark orange shawl, and golden yellow head scarf and earrings. She is as gorgeous as her white counterpart, also in
regional costume, and Feyen derived obvious pleasure in
painting her brown hand at the center of an orgy of white
cotton and pink baby flesh (Fig. 19). Here is the achievement of a splendid versimilitude; Feyen has effortlessly suggested a vital physicality and presentness. The painter is
acutely attentive to the alterity of this woman’s body, and his
17 Jacques Eug ene Feyen, Le baiser enfantin (The Childlike Kiss), 1865, oil on canvas, 431/ 4 £ 597/ 8 in. (110 £ 152 cm). Mus
ee des BeauxArts, Lille (artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by The Image of the Black in Western Art Project, Harvard University)
18 After Jacques Eug ene Feyen, Le baiser enfantin (The Childlike
Kiss), from “Salon de 1865,” L’ Illustration, May 27, 1865, 334
(artwork in the public domain)
precision makes us believe that we see another person’s hand
rather than a phantasmic projection (the projection, in other
words, falls on the side of the viewers, not the painter). All in
all, the picture exudes good health, and the statuary in the
background also celebrates women and babies. Without the
black woman, we might assume that this was a picture of the
joys of motherhood, but she effectively cancels such a reading and makes us look more carefully at the regional costume
of the white woman and its difference from the extremely
fancy clothing and hats of the two fleshy infants. Celebrated
here are paid caretakers, not mothers, a choice all the more
remarkable given the controversy in precisely these years
about the dangers of France’s long-held reliance on wet
nurses and its terrible resulting infant mortality rates of over
30 percent (one historian estimates that the mortality rate in
1865 was almost 39 percent).52
Is this Laure who poses for Feyen?53 Although she was certainly not the only black woman to model in 1860s Paris, it is
possible that the woman I am calling Laure posed for both
painters. The faces painted by Manet and Feyen share a
roundness, different, for example, from the thinner, longer
face of the black woman who was painted by Thomas Eakins
in Jean-L
eon G
ome’s studio in the mid- to late 1860s
(Figs. 20, 21). Moreover, the women painted by Manet and
Feyen both have a slightly upturned nose, unlike the larger
and straight nose of Nadar’s model Marie. Both painters were
drawn to their sitter’s high forehead, round face, and large,
full, lower lip, unlike Marie’s thinner one. But while Manet
consistently avoided the challenges posed by his unfamiliarity
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
19 Jacques Eug ene Feyen, Le baiser enfantin (The Childlike Kiss),
detail showing the hands and babies. Mus ee des Beaux-Arts, Lille
(artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by The
Image of the Black in Western Art Project, Harvard University)
with black hair, both Feyen and Nadar depicted their models’
center part. Still, I believe that Laure may have posed for both
of the extraordinary large-scale paintings that paired a white
and a black woman at the Salon of 1865.
She may also have worked as a nanny or wet nurse and not
just modeled as them. Perhaps Feyen, like Manet, first
noticed her working in that capacity at the Tuileries very
near his studio. Black women were being employed as governesses and wet nurses in France, and occasionally they
entered French representation. A daguerreotype of a grave,
elegantly dressed wet nurse holding a sleeping white baby
dates from the years directly after the second abolition of
slavery (Fig. 22).54 During the same years, Cham twice caricatured black wet nurses. His 1849 cartoon from an extensive
series mocking Haiti’s new Emperor Soulouque features his
“diplomatic gift” to the queen of Spain, “a superb black wet
nurse” whose milk, however, repulses the envoy because it
resembles black shoe polish.55 Another Cham caricature
from 1853 represents the mixed-race playwright and novelist
Alexandre Dumas cross-dressed as the wet nurse of Louis
XIV and Louis XV, an image referring, as the caption tells us,
to the censorship of his plays of those names (Fig. 23).
Cham, as we have seen, expressed racist invective generally,
and specifically targeted the pretensions of freed blacks.
Here he relishes the high/low dissonance of contact between
European royalty and a lower-class black woman. Wet nursing
predictably incited such a titillation wedded to anxiety
because it entailed bodily intimacy between strangers of different classes, sometimes regions and races.56
In France the jobs of modeling and wet nursing were not
mutually exclusive. Edgar Degas painted wet nurses more
than once. Berthe Morisot would paint her baby daughter in
the arms of a wet nurse who sat for her while nursing, thereby
20 Jacques Eug
ene Feyen, Le baiser enfantin (The Childlike Kiss),
detail showing the black woman’s face. Mus
ee des Beaux-Arts,
Lille (artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by
The Image of the Black in Western Art Project, Harvard
21 Thomas Eakins, Female Model, ca. 1867–69, oil on canvas,
301/ 4 £ 27 in. (76.8 £ 68.6 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San
Francisco, museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams
Collection, 1966.41 (artwork in the public domain; photograph
provided by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
22 Nourrice noire tenant une petite fille sur les genoux (Black Wet
Nurse with Young Girl in Her Lap), 1848–52, daguerreotype.
Biblioth eque Nationale de France, Paris (artwork in the public
domain; photograph provided by BnF)
performing two jobs at once. Manet kept a photograph of
the two in his personal album of cartes de visite. An American
visitor to the Acad
emie Julian noted that after “A series of
nude and shivering figures had . . . . passed before the cruelly
critical eyes of the pupils . . . . [one student said,] ‘Look at
her bust. No doubt she has suckled half a dozen bastards.’”58
Besides confirming that women who worked as wet nurses
and nannies could also work as models, this comment attests
to the fact that these same women could suckle the bastard
children of prostitutes; even working-class women in nineteenth-century Paris relied on wet nurses. Although Manet’s
painting undoubtedly suppresses this scenario, the prostitute
Olympia could have been seen as a mother, her black servant
as a wet nurse.
The American visitor’s statement also makes us aware that
Manet never depicted Laure nude, although he had associated Negresses above all with nakedness in Brazil. In 1849,
the boy apparently believed that he saw black women’s
breasts everywhere. Young Manet’s professed discomfort in
face of what he perceived to be the pervasive nakedness of
black slaves might have been exacerbated by the omnipresence of black wet nurses in midcentury Brazil, where they
also could be objects of desire.59 In 1863, Expilly, the French
commentator on Brazil, wrote that “the ideal” of “the man of
the tropics” was “embodied in the opulent type of the wet
In his painting Olympia, thirty-year-old Manet inverted his
teenage trauma of viewing an immense, degraded, halfnaked slave population—surely not as naked as he claimed,
23 Cham, “ La nouvelle nourrice du The^
a tre Français. Caricature a
propos de la censure de deux com e dies de Dumas: La Jeunesse de Louis
XIV et La Jeunesse de Louis XV,” from Le Charivari, November 1,
1853 (artwork in the public domain)
but on view. In Paris he was paying a white woman to pose
naked and a black woman to model dressed. The latter’s
clothing may have been for Manet the sign of the financial
transaction that differentiated her position in Paris from
enslavement. Being dressed was not a sign of natural servitude, as some would have it, but of the contrary: her entry
into class relations, her modernity.
The black woman in Olympia is both a paid servant and
a paid model, and the caricaturist Bertall placed her
alongside other paid servants on the cover of the issue of
Journal Amusant that includes his caricature of Manet’s
Olympia (Fig. 24). Almost crowded out by other attendants, the caricatured, turbaned black maid with immense
earrings carries her oversize bouquet to a prettified, nowdressed French courtesan, also adorned by jewelry, while
a white man and woman servant carefully paint her hair
“Venetian red” and her shoulders “pearl white.” A personification of the arts, the seductive white woman touches
up her cheeks while gazing into a mirror. Framed paintings hang from her skirt, and she holds a palette in her
left hand. The satirical caption mocks the collective
“industrial” and “commercial” production of a commodified art.61 Modern “industrial” art is produced by a phalanx of paid workers, including a black maid.
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
24 Bertall, “ Heureuse tendance de la peinture et des arts: ils prennent
de plus en plus la caract e re industriel et commercial qui leur avait trop
malheureusement fait d e faut jusqu’ alors,” cover of Journal Amusant,
May 27, 1865 (artwork in the public domain; photograph by
Julie Wolf)
25 Rose Maury, Marthe, “Marthe. Overall model, much sought
after by orientalists, Benjamin Constant, Desportes, etc. Often
poses in the academies of young girls,” illustration from Paul
Dollfus, Mod e les d’ artistes, Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1888, 114
(artwork in the public domain; photograph by Julie Wolf)
Free black Parisiennes were betwixt and between: bodies,
dress, ethnicity were all unstable markers attesting to the
complexity of black women’s status in the capital of modernity and also of empire. Even clothing was complicated:
Were so-called Negresses who wore contemporary fashion
attesting to their modernity, or were Parisian costumes a
form of masquerade? Did head wraps authenticate black
women’s foreign roots or were they exotic accessories that
veiled their Parisian identity? And what role precisely did
their skin color play? Take the immensely complex remark
made later in the century about a Senegalese model: “Marthe
coquettishly dons a red madras, and although very Parisian,
she poses negresses.”62 In this astonishing statement by Paul
Dollfus, race is a performance tied to costume. Marthe is very
Parisian but she poses as a Negress by donning a red madras
scarf, just as Laure did. In his subsequent book Mod e les
d’ artistes of 1888, Dollfus offered another comment that
underscores the complexity of black models’ roles: “The
slave—a superb negress—was posed by a model named
Marthe.”63 Here the depicted slave is identified as the superb
Negress, not the model Marthe who posed for the part.
Dollfus’s amply illustrated book includes three pictures
related to Marthe. In the most ambitious, full-page portrait
of her head and shoulders, Marthe wears a high-necked, button-up jacket, punctuated by a white collar and a rooster pin
(Fig. 25).64 Her frontal pose, direct stare, and closed, almost
pursed, mouth make her appear alert, but also formal. There
is nothing coquettish about this woman, no tilt of her head
or veiled glance; rather, she appears professional. Her large
hoop earrings signal cultural difference, but the bow at the
top of her head may be the topknot of a headwrap or it may
simply be a bow (a neat, frugal counterpoint to Olympia’s lavish, almost floral, peach-colored ribbon). Here is a darkskinned Parisian worker buttoned up as primly as the nursemaid in the earlier daguerreotype (Fig. 22). The other two
illustrations to Dolfuss’s book bifurcate Marthe into black
Afro-Caribbean and white Parisienne. In one vignette, a
small, almost ornamental head of a black woman is shown
with a head wrap (or cap) punctuated by three pins, hoop
earrings, and an off-the-shoulder blouse akin to that worn by
Laure in Manet’s preliminary portrait study.65 The other
illustrates an anecdote about Marthe’s embarrassment when
she inadvertently saw a naked white male model in the studio
of G
ome’s students.66 Directly above the picture Dollfus’s
text states that she blushed; below, he reports that she
exclaimed, “I will never get used to this profession [m e tier]!”
In this illustration we see Marthe from the back, and she
wears a dark, full-length, high-collared Parisian dress with a
bustle and a dark head wrap that could be mistaken for her
hair. Her skin is white, as if Marthe’s modesty, her Parisian
propriety, were most easily given form in the formulaic representation of a bourgeois white woman fleeing the artist’s studio. Together, the three pictures, like Dollfus’s commentary,
suggest how challenging it was to appear a modern and black
Parisienne; the terms existed in tension.
In Manet’s painting, the black woman’s overlarge,
awkwardly fitting dress contributes to our sense that she has

26 Edouard
Manet, Olympia, detail showing Laure’s hand.
Mus ee d’Orsay, Paris (artwork in the public domain; photograph Ó RMN–Grand Palais, provided by Art Resource, NY)
taken on a new role. In fact, Manet paid careful attention to
details of Laure’s dress that are seldom visible in reproduction and rarely noted; the cloth is diaphanous, with small
pink dots that suggest a surprising refinement. The maid
with her gorgeous earrings may wear an ill-fitting, hand-medown dress, but she is not represented as impoverished.67
Close looking makes us appreciate the indeterminacy of Laure’s costuming; her dress and accessories combine Parisian
and Afro-Caribbean associations. We might say that unlike
Marthe, she poses as both at one and the same time. For a
black woman in nineteenth-century France, modeling
entailed such a doubling, a doubling that was not only geographic—straddling the metropole and the colonies, Paris
and the African diaspora—but also the result of France’s
long reliance on slavery: women like Marthe and Laure were
paid a wage, but their bodies looked like those of slaves. If
the early nineteenth-century debate about Baartmann had
pivoted on the uncertainty of her self-possession—the question of whether she or others put her body on view—black
models in late nineteenth-century France chose to exhibit
themselves for money, but they could not erase the connotations of slavery, or, should we say, the spectacle of inequity,
modernity’s defamiliarization of what had once been naturalized. Falsehood again. Like the Creole, neither one nor the
Although Manet closely renders the details of Laure’s costume, he provides only a perfunctory, if effective, representation of her hand, so unlike the beautifully modulated and
veined black hand in Feyen’s picture (Fig. 26). Most disturbing is the abrupt truncation of her wrist, cut off prematurely
before the sleeve covers it, as if Manet never studied the
length of her arm or conceived of her body as extending
beneath her clothes. Instead, he arrived at a pose of the
hand and simply relied on it. This is not a body that has been
dressed; Laure is emphatically not a naked model with clothing laid over her anatomy.68
Laure does not appear to have modeled nude for Manet.
As we know, his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, who
posed for Olympia, often did. The finished painting of Olympia suggests, moreover, that the two women did not model
for him at the same time. One of the strangest and never discussed aspects of the picture is precisely the space where
Olympia and the maid meet, the pictorial site of contact
between the white and black women who served as Manet’s
models (Fig. 27). Here, above the leg of Olympia and below
the paper cradling the bouquet is a swath of pink and umber;
Manet’s brushstrokes shift from vertical at far left to horizontal at right. That perfunctorily filled-in area is too bright to
recede into shadow; instead, it undoes the illusion of the
descent of Laure’s dress. Nor does it suggest an extension of
the paper wrapping the bouquet, as Manet may have
intended. Instead, we see here the unmooring of illusion:
the free-floating appearance of paint that fails to attach to
form. And, of course, need I say it, this odd curving thin pink
shape with dark umber slashes resembles a slit, a bodily orifice, in this case, feminine. Yet it also divides Laure from
Olympia; we do not believe Manet knows how to suture
them, nor do we believe that the two women modeled for
him in intimate proximity to one another.
While I agree with Clark that “class was the essence of
Olympia’s modernity and lay behind the great scandal she
provoked,” I emphasize here that the painting inscribes not
just the lower-class status of the prostitute but also that of her
servant. Manet’s evenly lit, deadpan, studio arrangement foregrounds the working-class status of the white woman and black
woman who were paid to model for their fictive counterparts.69 The two depicted figures share this origin, an origin
left visible, as in so many of Manet’s pictures, by the painting’s
unabashedly staged and aggregate character. Models studied
at different times have been placed side by side. The picture’s
power derives from its strange, masterful combination of
directness and impassivity; in the figure of Olympia especially,
Manet captures and refuses to modify the bold, blank forthrightness of the bored woman paid to remain static, the sheer
tedium of stilling oneself as an object.
In Olympia, Manet makes the viewer look at two modern
working-class models, one white, one black, in close proximity. The words “modern” and “model” are key to the explosive
challenge made by the picture: the white woman is not art’ s
nude; the black woman is not art’ s slave. Instead, both are working-class models.70 Yet Manet himself hesitates to describe
the contact between these two women who modeled, creating instead a strange bodily buffer zone. He cannot fully integrate the two sitters. Black and white working-class women
coexist in modern Paris, but their relationship to one
another, so familiar an artistic convention as to be ignored, is
here characterized by a gap, a nonagreement at once temporal (they were not posing at the same time) and spatial: their
bodies do not meet; the envelopes of time and space that
they occupy are incongruent.
To signal Laure’s status as worker rather than slave, Manet
renders her chaste, but in so doing he represses the fact that
prostitution, domestic service, wet nursing, and modeling
were far from mutually exclusive jobs in nineteenth-century
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D

27 Edouard
Manet, Olympia, detail showing the space between Olympia and Laure. Mus
ee d’Orsay, Paris (artwork in the public domain;
photograph Ó RMN–Grand Palais, provided by Art Resource, NY)
Paris. In 1836, the best-known and most influential commentator on prostitution, Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Parent-Duch^atelet, noted that “there are perhaps no better wet nurses
than prostitutes whether in terms of their care or the attachment they have for their infants and for the infants they
adopt or have given to them.”71 Nineteenth-century workingclass women moved in and out of professions; the maid could
intermittently work as a prostitute even as she modeled for
artists and suckled both legitimate and bastard children for
pay.72 The babies she nursed could be the children of the
wealthy or the urban working poor, including prostitutes, so
pervasive was the reliance on wet nursing in 1860s Paris.
Finally, the wet nurse had to be a mother herself. One of the
ideological achievements of Feyen’s painting is to make us
forget the black baby who is missing, the baby whose birth initiated his or her mother’s lactation.
Another is its seductive repression of the virulent racism
pervading the culture. Feyen’s Childlike Kiss proposes that
white and black working-class women—servants who played
the role of mothers to the children of the affluent in both
city gardens and painters’ studios—could coexist beautifully,
even equally. Significantly, Feyen’s picture was never visually
caricatured. Manet’s painting, by contrast, exacerbated rather
than silenced the expression of racism by his contemporaries.
The painting’s unsentimental, hard-edged, flatly lit modernity incited hysteria about race, class, and empire now relocated in the metropole, generating a host of racist images
wherein Laure is deprived of her lovely gravitas and made to
seem a grinning mammy. Whether we praise Manet’s picture
for its avant-garde credentials or wonder why the academic
style—long dismissed by art historians as conventional and
anachronistic—sublimated such racial anxieties, or at least
curbed their expression, we need to examine the politics of
our appraisals more self-consciously, especially given the racism pervading nineteenth-century France. Does an idyllic, celebratory painting such as Feyen’s accomplish any political
work on behalf of postabolition blacks other than offering a
deceptive fantasy? Is attentiveness to a different beauty in
itself a value or merely a long-standing exoticist ploy? Does
the contrary value of Manet’s picture reside in its refusal to
sentimentalize the inequities of modernity, including the subordinate status of the black working-class woman to her white
counterpart? Flowers from Olympia’s customer may be held
by a complacent, visually subordinated black maid, but those
flowers arrive wrapped in crisp, modern paper, not the
spring breeze. So many studio props, so many paid models to
pose with them, but one model was more vulnerable and subject to violence; one was more likely to be treated as yet
another object, as if slavery lingered.73 One woman connoted
objecthood and dispossession—the black woman whom art
historians have failed to see.
The hostility toward black women was pervasive, and so,
too, was the dehumanization. A dictionary of argot or slang
informs us that “ugly” could be signified by the phrase “wet
nursed by a monkey.”74 In nineteenth-century Paris, a bottle
of red wine could be called an eggplant, a beet, a peony, or a
Negress.75 To drink a bottle of red wine was to stifle, suffo
Zola used
cate, or strangle a choirboy or a Negress.76 Emile
this popular slang in his novel L’ assommoir of 1877, a book
read and praised by Manet,77 in imagery that horrifyingly
combines women, milk, violence, and murder: “When the
liter [of red wine] was empty, he made a joke, taking the
neck and squeezing it with the gesture familiar to women
who milk cows. Again a negress that has a broken mouth! In
28 Plan de Paris en 1863 en 20
Arrondissements, Paris: A. Bes et F.
Debreuil, 1863 (artwork in the public
domain; photograph by Julie Wolf, with
additions by the author)
a corner of the store, the heap of dead negresses grew.”78
This was another aspect of life in Paris for the free black
woman negotiating hatred, indifference, desirability, dehumanization, fashionability, desexualization, and violence,
and all for a wage.
“Laure, very beautiful negress, rue Vintimille, 11, 3rd
floor.” How the woman we call Laure managed to support
her life as a free black woman in Paris is unknown to us. She
may have always been free; she may have been born in Paris;
but she, like all blacks, was visually marked by slavery, the
institution abolished only fifteen years before Manet’s painting. Laure’s address places her equidistant from the Tuileries
Garden, where she may indeed have worked as a governess or
wet nurse, and Manet’s studio on Rue Guyot, and even closer
to Feyen’s studio on Rue de la Paix (Fig. 28). But the precariousness of her financial position must have been vivified for
her every day as she passed by the Debtors Prison at her
building’s door, a full block in size. Wages, debt, and poverty
were the corollaries of the personal freedom recently won by
all blacks governed by France. Self-possession was shadowed
by debt, and the challenges must have been intense for many
(“What! Three sous? . . . But I am telling you that I am a free
negro!”). Laure may have been relatively financially secure as
a member of the working class or she may not have been. In
either case, she opened her front door and saw the frightening specter of class inequity made into monumental material
form. The Debtors Prison was across the street, so much
closer to her apartment than the spectacle of modernity at
the Tuileries, or the studio of the painter famed for giving
that modernity form, or, finally, the studio of the forgotten
academic painter who makes us feel that we suddenly know
her smile. Such are the illusions of art.
Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities and author of Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (2002),
Colossal: Engineering the Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty,
Eiffel Tower and Panama Canal (2012), and Enduring
Truths: Sojourner’s Shadows and Substance (2015) [History
of Art Department, University of California, Berkeley, Calif. 94720,].
This essay stems from a book-in-progress entitled Creole Looking: Portraying
France’ s Foreign Relations in the Long Nineteenth Century. It began as a Glass
Lecture at Brown University, February 2013; was further developed as an
Angela Rosenthal Memorial Lecture at Dartmouth College, February
2014; and given in briefer form as a paper at the conference “Manet
Then and Now” at the University of Pennsylvania, April 2014. I thank Kay
Dian Kriz, Evelyn Lincoln, Katie Hornstein, Andr
e Dombrowski, and Kaja
Silverman for these invitations and the audiences for their questions and
suggestions. I also wish to thank my wonderful undergraduate research
assistants: Ariela Alberts, who assisted me in the first stages of research;
Alice Main, who conducted invaluable research on Feyen and prostitution and also found a number of wet-nurse images; Lilly Rosenthal, for
researching representations of Brazil at the time of Manet’s voyage; Susannah Roberts, for reconstructing the shifting definitions of the word
“Creole”; and Valerie Law, for attempting to track down the history of
immigration in nineteenth-century France. I am also grateful for the
assistance of graduate students Kailani Polzak and Alexandra Courtois
and indebted to the perseverance of Kathryn Stine, senior digital curator, Visual Resources Collection, U.C. Berkeley. As always I thank Julie
Wolf for her photography and design work. Nancy Locke has generously
shared her expertise on the scant evidence concerning Manet’s sex life.
Finally, I thank Todd Olson for his close readings and suggestions so
generously offered in the midst of many obligations. This essay is dedicated to Huey Copeland; we have been thinking about this painting for a
very long time.
Unless otherwise indicated, translations are mine.

1. See Manet’s undated letter to his mother, in Edouard
Manet, Lettres de la
jeunesse: 1848–1849 voyage a Rio (Paris: Louis Rouart, 1928), 53–57, at 51–
53. This undated letter follows another to his mother dated February 5,
1849, ibid., 49–50. In this undated letter, Manet writes (55): “On n’a pas
pu trouver de ma^ıtre de dessin a Rio, le Commandant m’a pri
e de donner
des leçons a mes camarades, me voici donc
e en ma^ıtre de dessin; il
faut te dire que pendant la traverse je m’
etais fait une r
eputation, que
tous les officiers et les professeurs m’ont demand
e leur caricature et que
le Commandant m^
eme m’a demand
e la sienne pour ses
etrennes; j’ai eu
le bonheur de m’acquitter du tout de mani
ere a contenter tout le
2. Ibid., 51–53: “pour l’Europ
een quelque peu artiste elle [Rio] offert un
cachet tout particulier; on ne rencontre dans la rue que des n
egres et des
egresses; les Br
esiliens sortent peu et les Br
esiliennes encore moins; on
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
ne les voit que lorsqu’elles vont a la messe ou le soir apr
es le diner; elles
se mettent a leurs fen^etres et qu’elles s’aperçoivent qu’on les regarde
elles se retirent aussit^
ot. Dans ce pays tous les n egres sont esclaves; tous
ces malhereux ont l’air abruti; le pouvoir qu’ont sur eux les blancs est
extraordinaire; j’ai vu un march e d’esclaves, c’est un spectacle assez
evoltant pour nous. . . . Les n egresses sont pour la plupart nues jusqu’ a la
ceinture, quelques-unes ont un foulard attach e au cou et tombant sur la
poitrine, elles sont g en eralement laides, cependant j’en ai vu d’assez
jolies; elles se mettent avec beaucoup de recherche. Les unes se font des
turbans, les autres arrangent tr es artistement leurs cheveux cr^
epus et elles
portent presque toutes des jupons orn es de monstrueux volants.”
3. Manet to his cousin Jules Dejouy, Monday, February 26, 1849, in ibid.,
57–60, at 58: “la population est au trois quarts n egre, ou mul^atre, cette
partie est g
eralement affreuse sauf quelques exceptions parmi les
egresses et les mul^atresses; ces derni eres sont presque toutes jolies.”
4. Ibid.: “At Rio all negroes are slaves. The trade is in great force. As for the
Brazilian men, they are soft and have, I believe, little energy; the Brazilian
women are generally very well but they do not merit their reputation for
lightness that they are accorded in France; nothing is as prudish and as
stupid as a Brazilian woman, they never appear in the street during the
day; only at five in the evenings do they place themselves at their windows,
then it is permitted to ogle them at leisure [A Rio tous les n e gres sont
esclaves. La traite y est en grande vigueur. Quant aux Br e siliens, ils sont mous et
ont, je crois, peu d’ e nergie, les Br e siliennes sont g e n e ralement tr e s bien mais ne
m e ritent pas la reputation de l e g e ret e qu’ on veut bien leur pr^e ter en France; rien
n’ est si prude et si b^e te qu’ une Br e silienne, elles ne paraissent jamais de jour dans
la rue; le soir seulement a 5 heures ells se mettent toutes a leurs fen^e tres, il est permis alors de les lorgner a loisir].” On Manet as dandy, see Carol Armstrong,
Manet Manette (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).
5. See Lawrence C. Jennings, French Anti-Slavery: The Movement for the Abolition of Slavery in France 1802–1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2000).
6. See Sue Peabody, “ There Are No Slaves in France” : The Political Culture
of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1996).
7. Louis Chevalier, Labouring Classes and Dangerous Classes in Paris during the
First Half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Frank Jellinek (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 360. Chevalier quotes numerous remarks in
ene Buret, De la mis e re des classes laborieuses en Angleterre et en France
(Paris: Paulin, 1840). See also M. A. Fr egier, Des classes dangereuses de la
population dans grands villes, et des moyens de les rendre meilleures, 2 vols.
(Paris: chez J.-B. Balli ere, 1840), 141, 364.
8. Petition of Workers of Paris, in favor of the abolition of slavery, January
22, 1844, quoted in full in Patricia Motylewski, ed., La Soci e t e Franç aise
pour l’ abolition de l’ esclavage, 1834–1850 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998), 157–
58: “L’esclavage d egrade autant le possesseur que le poss
e. C’est pour
eir au grande principe de la Fraternit e humaine, que nous venons vous
faire entendre notre voix en faveur de nos malheureux fr
eres esclaves.
eprouvons aussi le besoin de protester hautement, au nom de la
classe ouvri
ere, contre les souteneurs de l’esclavage, qui osent pr
eux qui agissent en connaissance de cause, que le sort des ouvriers
français est plus d eplorable que celui des esclaves. . . . Quels soient les
vices de l’organisation sociale actuelle du travail en France, l’ouvrier est
libre. . . . L’ouvrier s’appartient; nul n’a le droit de le fouetter, de le vendre, de le s
eparer violemment de sa femme, de ses enfants, de ses amis.”
9. See Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, “Cursed Mimicry: France and Haiti, Again
(1848–1851),” Art History 38, no. 1 (February 2015): 68–105.
10. The term stems from Orlando Patterson’s classic study Slavery and Social Death:
A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985).
11. T. J. Clark, preface to The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet
and His Followers, rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999),
12. Ibid., xxvii–xxviii. Clark continues, “‘Nakedness’ was a word . . . for a
form of embodiment that somehow puts the free circulation of
images (such as Woman, desire and money) in doubt. . . . The problem is that ‘class,’ too, was one of the images on which modernity
thrived. Class was one of its favorite games, but the game obeyed
essentially the same rules as the other terms of spectacle—rules of
mobility, elusiveness, disembodiment, pure visibility and confinement
to the world of signs. [But in Olympia] class appeared in the form of
13. Kymberly N. Pinder, Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art
History (New York: Routledge, 2002).
14. Sander L. Gilman, “Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography
of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 (Autumn 1985): 204–42.
15. Oft quoted is Gilman’s assertion (ibid., 216) that “Sarah Baartmann’s sexual parts, her genitalia and her buttocks, serve as the central image for
the black female throughout the nineteenth century.”
16. Ibid., 232. “Black females do not merely represent the sexualized female,
they also represent the female as the source of corruption and disease.”
(ibid., 231).
17. Z. S. Strother, “Display of the Body Hottentot,” in Africans on Stage, ed.
Berth Lindfors (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1999), 1–61, at
2, 40.
18. Zine Magubane, “Which Bodies Matter? Feminism, Poststructuralism,
Race, and the Curious Theoretical Odyssey of the Venus Hottentot,” Gender and Society 15, no. 6 (December 2001): 816–34, at 822. Magubane
(823) points out the basic fact that “Blackness is less a stable, observable
empirical fact than an ideology that is historically determined and, thus,
variable.” It is notable that contemporary scholars often discern fewer distinctions among persons from Africa and the African diaspora than people over a century ago, lumping persons into categories of black and
white because of the long-standing binary opposition in United States
19. Lorraine O’Grady, “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity,” Afterimage 2 (1992): 1–23, at 16: “Whether the theory is Christianity or modernism, each of which scripts the body as all-nature, our
bodies will be the most natural.” Griselda Pollock, “A Tale of Three
Women: Seeing in the Dark, Seeing Double, at Least, with Manet,” in
Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’ s Histories
(London: Routledge, 1999), 246–315, esp. 255, 277–305. See also Jennifer DeVere Brody, “Black Cat Fever: Manifestations of Manet’s Olympia,”
Theatre Journal 53, no. 1 (March 2001): 95–118. For another Orientalist
reading of Olympia, see Nancy Locke, Manet and the Family Romance
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). On the related issue of
Manet’s painting of Charles Baudelaire’s mixed-race lover, Jeanne
Duval, see also Therese Dolan, “Manet’s Portrait of Baudelaire’s Mistress, Reclining,” Art Bulletin 79, no. 4 (December 1997): 611–29; and
Myriam J. A. Chancy, Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), 41–42. On the
problematic of the “negress,” see Huey Copeland, “In the Wake of the
Negress,” in Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art,
ed. Cornelia Butler and Alexandra Schwartz (New York: Museum of
Modern Art, 2010), 480–97.
20. Pollock, “A Tale of Three Women,” 285.
21. Magubane, “Which Bodies Matter?” 829 (my emphasis).
22. Paul Jamot and Georges Wildenstein, Manet, L’art français, 2 vols.

(Paris: Les Beaux-Arts, Edition
et de Documents, 1932),
vol. 1, 81; and Achille Tabarant, Manet et ses oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard,
1947), 79.
23. Pollock, “A Tale of Three Women,” 286. Pollock has also located a birth
certificate for a woman named Laure who was born April 19, 1839, in
Paris. This Laure is listed without a surname and her race is not mentioned (ibid., 308 n. 19).

e nement Illustr e , May 10, 1868, quoted in
24. According to Emile
Zola in L’ Ev
Juliet Wilson Bareau, Manet by Himself, Correspondence & Conversation,
Paintings, Pastels, Prints & Drawings (Boston: Little, Brown, 1991), 49.
25. For identification of this picture as “Laure” rather than “A Negress,” see
Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art from the American Revolution
to World War I: Black Models and White Myths, vol. 1, pt. 2, 2nd ed. (1989; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), 206–7, 325. For the scant evidence about Laure’s life, see Pollock, “A Tale of Three Women,” 255, 277–
305, 308; and Marie Lathers, “Laure,” in Dictionary of Artists Models, ed. Jill
Berk Jiminez (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001), 315–16. The recent Royal
Academy of Arts exhibition catalog Manet: Portraying Life lists the painting as
“The Negress” (London: Royal Academy of Arts; New York: Harry N.
Abrams, 2012), 138 n. 25, 156, 276. Pollock and her research assistant, Nancy
Proctor, located a rental agreement for a Laure at this address residing on
the fourth floor; they also found a birth certificate for a Laure born April 19,
1839; in 1863 this Laure would have been twenty-four years old; Pollock, “A
Tale of Three Women,” 255, 308 n. 19.
26. Nicolas Auguste Gallimard, Examen du Salon de 1849 (Paris, 1849), 78,
quoted in Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art from the American Revolution to World War I, vol. 1, pt. 2, Slaves and Liberators (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 172.
27. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life; Michael Fried, Manet’ s Modernism, or the
Face of Painting in the 1860s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996);
and Armstrong, Manet Manette.
28. Charles Expilly, Les femmes et les moeurs du Br e sil (Paris: Charlieu et Huillery, 1863).
29. M. L. E. Moreau de Saint-M
ery, Description topographique, physique, civile,
politique et historique de la partie franç aise de l’ isle Saint-Domingue, 2 vols.
(Philadelphia: chez l’auteur, 1797), vol. 1, 15, vol. 2, 72.
30. Auguste-Jean-Marie Vermorel, Ces dames, physiognomies parisiennes (Paris:
Tous les Librairies, 1860), 28: “Il ne manque rien a Finette, rien, pas
eme un n
egre! un n
egre dont elle parle a tout propos! un n
egre qui
n’appartient qu’ a elle et n’ob
eit qu’ a elle. Elle l’aime tant, son n
(Finette did not want for anything, nothing, not even a negro: a negro
with whom she shared everything; a negro who belonged only to her and
who obeyed only her. She loved her dearly, her negro!), quoted and
trans. Phylis A. Floyd, “The Puzzle of Olympia,” Nineteenth-Century Art
Worldwide: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture 3, no. 1 (Spring
31. Trans. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life, 283; for the complete poem, see
Julius Meier-Graefe, Edouard Manet (Munich: Piper, 1912), 134–36.
32. Geronte [Victor Fournel], “Les excentriques et les grotesques,” La Gazette
de France, June 30, 1865, quoted in full in Clark, The Painting of Modern
Life, 289. This essay fully relies on Clark’s extensive compilation and often
complete citation in French of Olympia’s reviews, as well as many of his
translations. Here I have translated additional text.
33. Am
ee Cantaloube, Le Grand Journal, May 21, 1865, 2, partly quoted in
Clark, The Painting of Modern Life, 287–88.
34. Ibid.
35. Pierrot, “Une premi ere visite au Salon,” Les Tablettes de Pierrot—Histoire de la
Semaine, May 14, 1865, quoted in full in Clark, The Painting of Modern Life, 288.
36. See Mina Curtiss, “Manet Caricatures: Olympia,” in Massachusetts Review 7,
no. 4 (1966): 725–52.
37. See, for example, Th eophile Gautier’s response to Alphonse de
Lamartine’s play Toussaint Louverture, which opened April 7, 1850, after
the second abolition of slavery: “on ne voit sur la sc ene que n
mul^atres, quarterons, m etis, griffes et autres vari et es de bois d’
La Presse, April 8, 1850, reprinted in Gautier, Histoire de l’ art dramatique
(Paris: Magin, 1859), vol. 6, 163, and quoted in L eon-François
Hoffmann’s introduction to Alphonse de Lamartine, Toussaint Louverture,
ed. Hoffmann (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1998), xxvi.
38. Cham, Le Salon de 1865 photographi e (Paris: Arnauld de Vresse, 1865). On
Cham, see David Kunzle, “Cham, the Popular Caricaturist: Cham and
Daumier—Two Careers, Two Reputations, Two Audiences,” Gazette des
Beaux-Arts 96 (December 1980): 213–24.
39. Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2008).
40. Geronte, “Les excentriques et les grotesques.”
41. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life, 111.
42. Although models were assumed to be sexually available, there is no evidence suggesting Manet’s sexual relationship with either of his models.
Of course, men past and present have indulged this erotic fantasy, all the
more titillating when conceived as transgressive. One twentieth-century
fabulist even claimed Manet died of venereal disease contracted in Brazil:

despite his captain’s warnings, young Edouard’s
“first experience of love,
was embodied in the sable features of a Rio slave girl.” See Henri Perruchot, Manet, trans. Humphrey Hare (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1962),
41, 226. There is no real evidence Manet contracted venereal disease, but
if he did, he could as easily have done so in Paris. I thank Nancy Locke for
references and conversation and Todd Olson for his lecture regarding
the long identification of syphilis with the New World, “Recto/Verso:
Poussin’s Reversals,” in the session “Disappearing Acts: Invisibility and
the Limits of Representation in Seventeenth-Century France,” chaired by
Katherine Ibbett (Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting, Cambridge, 2005).
43. Historian Robin Mitchell has located a Parisian brothel of “negresses” in a
published guide at the end of the eighteenth century, Les bordels de Paris, avec les
noms, demeures et prix, plan salubre et patriotique soumis aux illustres des e tats
g e n e raux pour en faire un article de la Constitution (Paris: MM. Dillon, Sartine,
Lenoir, La Troliere, & Compagnie, 1790). See Mitchell, “Les Ombres Noires
de Saint Domingue: The Impact of Black Women on Gender and Racial
Boundaries in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France” (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2010). Louis-L eopold Boilly also placed a black
woman among the prostitutes at the Palais-Royal in 1804. See Darcy Grimaldo
Grigsby, Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2002), 278–79; and Deborah Willis and Carla Williams,
The Black Female Body: A Photographic History (Philadelphia: Temple University
Press, 2002), 47–58.
44. In her essay “Nadar and the Art of Portrait Photography,” Françoise Heilbrun betrays the lengths to which French scholars can go to repress colonial history in order to celebrate an artist’s achievement: “In the second
of Nadar’s images, the half-nude sitter offers us her opulent bosom. The
beauty of her expression, her eyes lifted in a melancholy gaze that is
admirably brought out by the lighting, makes us realize we are miles away
from the modes of erotic and licentious photography”; in Nadar, by Maria
Morris Hambourg et al., exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of
Art, 1995), 50. On this photograph see also Hambourg’s entries for these
portraits, nos. 61, 62, in ibid., 239.
45. Jules de Goncourt and Edmond de Goncourt, consecutive notes for La

fille Elisa,
quoted in Robert Ricatte, La gen e se de “La fille Elisa”
Presses Universitaires de France, 1960), 67: “Une marcheuse d’un bordel,
pas du tout voix
ee; voix de n
egresse cr
eole fausse; des notes cristallines et cass
ees comme un harmonica qui se briserait . . . faire l’amie de la
putain une n
etudier le type et le mettre en sc
46. See, for example, A. Scheler, Dictionnaire d’ e tymologie franç aise d’ apr e s les
r e sultats de la science moderne (Brussels: A. Schn
ee, 1862), s.v. “Cr
eole”: “d.
l’esp. criollo (de criar, produire. L. creare). Le sens le plus large de ce
mot est: individu de race
ere, n
e dans le pays.” M. Bescherelle, Dictionnaire national: ou, Dictionnaire universel de la langue franç aise (Paris: Garnier Fr
eres, 1870), s.v. “Cr
eole”: “(en espag. criolo, de criar,
elever, nourrir;
ou de criado,
eve domestique; on disait jadis criole, ou du cara€ıbe, creol).
Nom qu’on donne a un Europ
een d’origine qui est n
e dans les colonies.
Ce nom
etait autrefois appliqu
e aux n
egres n
es dans l’esclavage, des
parents africains. Il s’est
etendu m^
eme jusqu’aux animaux.”
47. Though there is a scant literature on Jacques Eug
ene Feyen, he was
known and respected among his contemporaries. A student of Paul
Delaroche, he evolved into a competent painter of fishing scenes, and,
like his brother, the sculptor Augustin Feyen-Perrin, Feyen worked extensively in the Breton coastal village of Cancale. He was awarded a medal at
the Salon of 1866, second-class in 1880, and the Legion of Honor in 1881.
His work was especially popular with upper-middle-class British and
American collectors in the late nineteenth century and appeared frequently at auction. See John Denison Champlin, Cyclopedia of Painters and

Paintings, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905), 54; Etienne
Charles, “Le doyen des artistes français: M. Eug
ene Feyen,” Le Mois Litt e raire et Pittoresque 16 (July–December 1906): 158–66; and Lalance,
ene Feyen,” Bulletin des Soci e t e s Artistiques de l’ Est 14, no. 10 (October
1908): 117–22. Feyen painted a related subject the following year in a little-known, more disturbing painting auctioned by Sotheby’s London on
May 7, 1986. Entitled A Group of Children with Their Coloured Servant, 1866,
30 by 201/ 2 in., the work harkens back to eighteenth-century paintings of
walks in the park. The painting portrays a fashionably dressed white girl
and boy holding the hands of a lavishly attired toddler, attended by a
black servant boy who is oversize, costumed in vaguely North African
clothes, and caricaturally smiling.
48. On the history of wet nursing, see George D. Sussman, “The Wet-Nursing
Business in Nineteenth-Century France,” French Historical Studies 9, no. 2
(Autumn 1975): 304–28; and idem, Selling Mother’ s Milk: The Wet-Nursing
Business in France, 1715–1914 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982);
Fanny Fa€y-Sallois, Les nourrices a Paris au XIXe si e cle (Paris: Payot, 1980);
and Bernadette de Castelbajac, Nourrices et nounous: Une historie des femmes
allaitantes (Paris: Cosmopole, 2007).
49. “Salon de 1865,” L’ Illustration, May 27, 1865, 333–34; and A. P. Martial,
Lettre illustr e e sur le Salon de 1865 a M.r Gustave Henry a [sic] Commercy
(Paris: Cadart et Luquet, 1865), 17.
50. “Salon de 1865,” L’ Illustration, 334: “M. Feyen y a trouv
e le motif d’une gracieuse composition, un peu grande peut-^
etre, mais arrang
e et peinte avec
soin. Deux bonnes, l’une blonde, Alsacienne a coiffe noir, l’autre, forte
egresse aux dents blanches et aux yeux jaunes, sont assises sur un banc
qui s’appuie a un treillage. La premi
ere tient une petite fille de huit mois
environ, v^
etue d’une blouse blanche, et la seconde un petit garçon d’un
an et demi, aussi vigoureux que la petite est delicate. Les deux enfants
s’embrassent bien, ou plut^
ot c’est la fillette qui, le nez en l’air, presse de sa
main droite la joue du garcon et l’embrasse sur les l
evres. Le bambin

e se laisse faire, son bras gauche, un peu musculeux, s’applique en
longueur au bras de la n
egresse: il sent glisser des genoux de sa bonne. La
petite, au contraire, est soutenue et n’aucun effort a faire.”
51. See Honor
e de Balzac, “La fille aux yeux d’or” [Girl with the golden
eyes], in Histoire des treize, pt. 3 (Paris: Br
echet, 1835), which he dedicated
to Eug
ene Delacroix. Delacroix’s construction of his studio as a site of
what I have called “heterosexual conquest” offers a foil to Manet’s pictorial practice and silence regarding his personal relationship with his models. Delacroix’s youthful journal entries explicitly note sexual acts and
conflate them with pictorial mastery over his models; see Grigsby, Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France, 237–79.
52. Sussman, Selling Mother’ s Milk, 117.
53. This has recently been claimed by Sheldon Cheek’s online article of October
21, 2014, entitled “Laura, the Black Model Who Graced the Art of 19th-Century France,” Root, in conjunction with Image of the Black Archive & Library,
Harvard University,
54. See, for example, Chanteloub’s Portrait de Marie-Jeanne Grellier en compagnie de sa nourrice, Mus
ee d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux.
55. Cham, “Revue comique de la semaine,” Le Charivari, December 16, 1849,
2. The caption reads: “L’empereur Soulouque, ayant appris la grossesse
de la reine d’Espagne, se h^ate de lui exp
edier en cadeau diplomatique
une superbe nourrice noire qui apporte un
echantillon de son lait, que
Narvaez prenait, a premi
ere vue, pour du cirage anglais.” (The Emperor
Soulouque, having learned of the pregnancy of the queen of Spain,
rushed to send her as a diplomatic gift a superb black wet nurse who
brings a sample of her milk, that Narvaez mistook at first view for English
S T I L L T H I N K I N G A B O U T O L Y M P I A ’S M A I D
[shoe] polish.) General Ram
on Mar ıa Narv aez, Duke of Valencia, was a
leader of the Moderados (Moderates) faction at the Spanish court. On
the Soulouque series, see Grigsby, “Cursed Mimicry.”
56. The caricature is described as “The New Wet Nurse of the The^atre
Français. Caricature about the censorship of two comedies by Dumas:
The Youth of Louis XIV and The Youth of Louis XV.” See also JeanIgnace-Isidore-G erard Grandville’s print, inscribed in French and
English: “Arrivez, arrivez, nourrice. . . . Dieux comme y ressemble a
Mosieu [sic]!” / Come, Come nurse. . . . Good God! what a likeness! (The
literal translation would be “how he resembles Monsieur!”) The print
depicts the wet nurse as a different species. Lithograph, from Grandville’s
Les m e tamorphoses du jour (Paris: Garnier Fr eres, 1869), no. 11.
57. See Edgar Degas, Nourrice a jardin de Luxembourg, ca. 1874 (Mus
ee Fabre,
Montpellier) and Berthe Morisot, Wet Nurse with Julie, 1880 (private collection). On French representations of wet nursing, see Linda Nochlin,
“Morisot’s Wetnurse: The Construction of Work and Leisure in Impressionist Painting,” in Women, Art and Power and Other Essays (New York:
Harper & Row, 1988), 231–42, at 235: “If prostitution was excluded from
the realm of honest work because it involved women selling their bodies,
motherhood and the domestic labor of child care were excluded from
the realm of work precisely because they were unpaid. . . . The wet nurse,
then, is something of an anomaly in the nineteenth-century scheme of
feminine labor. She is like the prostitute in that she sells her body, or its
product, for profit and her client’s satisfaction; but, unlike the prostitute,
she sells her body for a virtuous cause. She is at once a mother—seconde
ere, remplaçant—and an employee.”
58. The American Elisabeth Finley Thomas is here describing the women’s
studio at the Acad emie Julien, Ladies, Lovers and Other People (New York:
Longman, Green, 1935), 88–89, quoted in Susan Waller, The Invention of
the Model: Artists and Models in Paris, 1830–1870 (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate,
2006), 46. In the early twentieth century, Paul Milliet likened models
seeking work to a “slave market”: “Not one [of the students] seemed
aware that he was looking at a degraded human being who was overcome
by misery; not one felt the least bit of pity.” Milliet, “Une famille des
epublicaines fourieristes: Les Milliet,” Cahier de la Quinzaine, 12th ser., 8,
sec. 6, 31, quoted in Waller, Invention of the Model, 35. See also Susan Waller, “Realist Quandaries: Posing Professional and Proprietary Models in
the 1860s,” Art Bulletin 89, no. 2 (June 2007): 239–65.
59. See Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Hist o ria da vida privada no Brasil, vol. 2,
Imp e rio: A corte e a modernidade nacional ([S~ao Paulo, Brazil]: Companhia
das Letras, 1997–98). See also Jean-Baptiste Debret’s portrait of “Don
Pedro II, ^ag
e d’un an et demi, dans le giron de sa gouvernante.” Debret
repeatedly depicted wet nurses. See also Agostino Brunias, A Linen Market
with a Linen Stall and Vegetable Seller in the West Indies, ca. 1780, Yale Center
for British Art, New Haven, which includes a topless, turbaned, standing
black female figure and another who is seated with her breast revealed as
she nurses her baby.
60. Expilly, Les …
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