The nightmare and olympia Essay

            Olympia, by Edouard Manet, and The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli, come from different art periods and depict different scenes, but they have many similarities.  The paintings, both created over a century ago, introduced new images and styles to the world.  Olympia and The Nightmare have many differences and similarities, such as the juxtaposition between light and dark, the relevance to eroticism, and the type of brush stroke used.

            The Nightmare, by Anglo-Swiss painter John Henry Fuseli, is oil on canvas and is 40 inches by 50 inches.  Painted in 1781 during the Romantic period, this piece shocked the public, and became an instant hit.  It now resides at the Detroit Institute of Art in Detroit, Michigan (“Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)” 2009).  The painting depicts a sleeping women, dressed all in white, draped over the bed with her head hanging down toward the floor.  A male demon is sitting on her stomach; it peers out at the viewer.  The woman seems lifeless, and she is believed to be in a position that induces nightmares.  The paleness of her dress and skin is in stark contrast to the dark background, a background of deep reds and yellows.  The room contains red velvet curtains, and a small table on which a mirror sits.  A disembodied horse head emerges from the curtains, showcasing featureless eyes.

            Olympia, by French painter Edouard Manet, is oil on canvas and is 51 3/8 inches by 74 3/4 inches.  Painted between 1863 and 1865 during the Impressionism period, this piece angered the public (“Edouard Manet’s Olympia” 2009).  Manet’s style was new, known today as Realism, and it went against every rule of art the French had.  The painting depicts a nude women lying on a bed.  Her fully-clothed maid stands behind her, seemingly trying to give her something.  The nude woman has a confrontational look on her face, and is wearing symbols of wealth, such as an orchid in her hair, pearl earrings, and she has an oriental shawl that he is lying on, although she is clearly a lower-class citizen.  Her hand firmly protects her sex, saying that she is independent and has sexual dominance over men.

              The Nightmare and Olympia could be considered to be eroticism.  In The Nightmare, Fuseli painted the woman’s bust, shoulder, throat, cheek, and closed eyes as the brightest part of the painting (Lubbock 2006).  The woman is dressed all in white, sharply contrasting not only with the background, but with the demon that is perched on her stomach.  The sleeping woman is the only bright area of the painting, suggesting that she is the only purely “good” being in that room.  Olympia  is erotic because the painting features a nude woman, and although there is another person in the picture, that person fades into the background, giving the illusion that only the nude woman is depicted.  This gives the sense that the viewer can be alone with the nude woman.  The paleness of the nude woman, along with the bright whiteness of the bed she is laying on contrasts sharply with the incredibly dark background.  Also, the black ribbon around her neck is a shocking contrast to her white skin.  The black ribbon is even a relief, it gives the viewer something to rest their eyes on while taking a break from looking at the brightness of the white.  The black ribbon keeps the focus on the nude woman; the viewer’s eye does not wander to the background because there is a color other than white on the nude woman.

            Not only are these paintings erotic, but they also manages the viewer’s attention.  The viewer’s attention in The Nightmare, after seeing the eroticism, is then diverted to the woman’s hanging arm, and then to the rest of her body.  After this, there is a jump from the peaceful-looking woman to the hideous demon sitting on her stomach.  The demon is dark in color, a shocking contrast to the languid lady in white.  The lower half of the demon’s body is shapeless and covered in shadow, it even seems to blend in with the dark background.  In Olympia, the viewer cannot help but to stare at the nude woman.  The maid behind the woman fades into the dark background, and the viewer can easily forget that the maid is not there.  The focus stays on the nude woman by eliminating all other distractions in the painting.

            The main difference of these two paintings is the type of brush stroke used.  In Olympia, Manet painted quickly, not caring about if his brush strokes were perfect or not.  His brush strokes, indeed, were clearly evident on the surface of the canvas.  Fuseli, on the other hand, seemed to take his time painting his piece.  The brush strokes seem to be smooth and light, not rough and blotchy like Manet’s strokes.

            Edouard Manet’s Olympia was considered the beginning of Realism.  Manet did not want to follow his training and paint “nice” pictures.  He wanted to feel something, and he wanted others to feel something as well.  This piece was first displayed in the Salon in Paris in 1865.  The public absolutely outraged by the painting.  Things got so out of hand that two men had to guard against attacks against the painting (“Edouard Manet’s Olympia” 2009).  Manet upset the established order of the French art world, and began an entire art period because of it.  John Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare was the first piece of art to explore the dark recesses of the human subconscious.  During the Romantic period, people were free to explore anything they wanted.  This usually meant going against Classical tradition and inventing something new.  This is what Fuseli did, and he paved the way for many artists to create art based on the human subconscious.  This painting was first featured at the Royal Academy in London.  After The Nightmare was a success, Fuseli was commissioned in 1786 to paint a total of nine illustrations for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery (“Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)” 2009).  Both The Nightmare and Olympia were new in regards to the style and subject used in each, but each contributed significantly to the world of art in its own way.

-Edouard Manet’s Olympia.  (2009).  Retrieved July 28, 2009, from Culture Shock: Visual Arts.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/flashpoints/visualarts/olympia_a.html

–         Henry Fuseli (1741-1825).  (2009).  Retrieved July 28, 2009, from The Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art.  http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/fuseli-henry.htm

–         Lubbock, Tom.  (2006).  Fuseli, Henry: The Nightmare (1781).  Retrieved July 28, 2009, from The Independent.  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/fuseli-henry-the-nightmare-1781-797997.html