The scandalous painting that helped create modern art

The scandalous painting that helped create modern art

In the 1800s, most paintings looked like this. Muted colors, complex scenes, and lots of
mythological stuff. But in 1865 something came along that was
so different, it caused shock and horror and outrage. “ the body’s putrefying color recalls the
horror of the morgue.” “a skeleton dressed in a tight-fitting tunic
of plaster.” “takes on at times the undefinable terror
of a painted corpse.” “her face is stupid, her skin cadaverous…
she does not have a human form.” The painting is called Olympia, and it changed
the art world forever. Édouard Manet painted Olympia in 1863. When Paris was the cultural center of the
world. And the center of this cultural center was
the Academy of Fine Arts. The Academy was made up of upper-crust art
critics that worshipped the Italian Renaissance painters of three hundred years prior. You know – Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli,
Titian… And at the Paris Salon — the Academy’s
legendary annual art show — they only displayed art that mimicked the renaissance style. To determine who got in, they had a bunch
of rules. First and foremost – great art was supposed
to convey a moral or intellectual message. And all acceptable art fell into one of five
categories ranked by their capacity to deliver those messages. Landscapes and still lifes were at the bottom.
In the middle are portraits… And genre paintings — mostly quaint scenes
of poor or foreign subjects, painted for the rich. At the top of the list is History painting,
the Academy’s darling. These depicted major historical or mythical
moments, they were considered the best at providing an ethical or moral lesson. Like depictions of the birth of Venus – showing
the goddess emerging fully formed from the ocean, a symbol of womanly perfection and
divine love. Which brings us to the second set of rules. Equally important to what was painted was
how it was painted. Take that painting of “The Birth of Venus” It’s the kind of painting the Academy loved. Its subjects are idealized, prettified visions
of the world — smooth and beautiful, with no body hair and flawless skin. The painting follows the rules of depth and
perspective — meaning it looks like it could exist in the real world. And the scene is complex and layered – there’s
a lot going on. Its colors are ones you’d find in nature.
They aren’t too saturated or harsh. And the brushstrokes are smooth. So smooth
that they’re nearly invisible on the canvas. For a long time, really the only way to become
a successful artist was to follow the Academy’s rules. Which makes Manet’s Olympia all the more
an outlier. Check out this painting by Renaissance master
Titian from 1538. Look familiar? It should. Manet painted Olympia as a direct riff on
Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.” — but there’s a reason Manet’s painting
ruffled so many feathers when it hung in the Salon. For starters, the name Olympia was a popular
pseudonym for sex workers. Manet took a beloved, instantly recognizable
painting and corrupted it – subbing in a common sex worker for the morally upright goddess
of love and fertility. There’s not much room for a sex worker in
the heirarchy of genres. But it was also how Manet painted Olympia
was what really changed things Manet used stark and unnatural colors that
give Olympia a cold, harsh look. And look at how rough and textured Manet’s
brushstrokes are compared to Titian’s imperceptible ones. And, unlike Titians, Manet’s painting doesn’t
seem to exist in real space. It’s much flatter and less complex. And beyond the rules, the two paintings just
feel different. Venus lounges while Olympia sits at attention. Venus’ maids place furs in a chest, probably
a wedding gift. Olympia’s maid brings her flowers, likely from one of her regular customers. And compare their hands. People really didn’t like Olympia’s tensed
fingers – one critic claimed she was “mocking the pose” of Venus, with a hand shamelessly
flexed” Where Venus is warm and inviting, Olympia
is tense and stiff. It’s as if Venus invites you to look at her, while Olympia confronts
you— almost like she’s shaming you for intruding. It’s not totally clear why the Academy chose
to display Manet’s rule-breaking painting, but it probably had something to do with Manet’s
growing popularity. You can see his influence so clearly in what
came next. He led the charge toward modernism in the late 1800s. Starting with the impressionists – Monet,
Degas – who adopted his penchant for modern themes and loosened brushstrokes. But it’s not just the impressionists who
owe Manet. More than anything, Olympia is proof that
no one entity gets to decide what art should look like. And, when we look back on the history of art,
we don’t remember the people who were really good at following the rules. We remember the people who moved the needle

Dereck Turner

100 thoughts on “The scandalous painting that helped create modern art

  1. Vox says:

    Fast forward to today: why do all-white paintings sell for millions of dollars and end up in museums?

  2. BuddyL says:

    04:00 "No one entity gets to decide what art🎨 looks like."👏🏿

  3. SEMANTI CHAKLADAR 1831353 says:

    The Howard Roark of his times

  4. deadeaded says:

    Anyone else find it kinda weird that they use an 1879 Bouguereau to illustrate what the 1863 Olympia was rebelling against?

    Also, we definitely do remember the people who were really good at "following the rules". Bouguereau is still very much remembered and loved within the art world, thank you very much.

  5. Luis _ says:

    Who else clicked because of AP art history?

  6. Christina Kefela says:

    We learned about this in AP Art History!! Probably my favorite painting of the course

  7. mike jauregui says:

    well I just realized I´ve learned all about this months ago while playing Red Dead Redemption II and I didn´t even know it.

  8. Lovely Hawaiian says:

    Excellent 🕊

  9. C Vandy says:

    Hold up that Manet painting looks like it was done by a child compared to the Titian

  10. Nana Aforo says:

    please do more stuff about art!!!!!!!!!!!! this is excellent

  11. Wesley Floyd says:

    And now we have all white paintings that sell for millions and end up in museums. Maybe rules have a reason… I’m sure the next round of art will be a revolt against the contemporary attitude of anything goes

  12. Sachin Pillai says:

    Potraying substandard work of art as "moving the needle" and praising it as "revolutionary" is what is wrong with society. 50 years from now, a kindergartener's scribbles will be treated as art selling for millions.

  13. Lashan says:

    I saw this at Musée d'Orsay a few months ago and I distinctly remember focusing on that hand of hers. Your eye is drawn to it not only because of the flex but also how it's rendered so sharply in comparison to the rest of the painting.

  14. S says:

    this taught me more than my ap art history textbook ever did

  15. Marcus Åkerman says:

    These are too short!

  16. MissSissiVoss says:

    I really don't get this flexed hand scandal. In my opinion Venus hand is more scandalous, because it looks as if she plays with herself.

  17. Alberto Valero says:

    Loved it!

  18. Adrian R. Carranza says:

    I, for one, really despise modern art…

  19. Arsal Shah says:

    I waited a whole 6 days for a new Vox video, and it turns out its only 4 minutes long? This is an outrage!

  20. Isabelle Nguyen says:

    Apah kids know

  21. _Paws_ says:

    Could this be compared to Dave Chappelle vs Vice?

  22. Raphelle Reid says:

    Shameless flex but okay

  23. Valva Cortez says:

    Art is all about the rules .Without the rules its pure stupidity

  24. Elle Jane says:

    he painted the white person first and then showed the maid, it is an image of the maid painted as a white person, and then her painted her shock at seeing her, they are the same person…

  25. Michael Dodge says:

    The Venus of Urbino is named Venus due to her lack of a known name and is merely the "Jane Doe" equivalent of the Art History world. So the relation of Venus the goddess and Olympia, Manet's subject, is a bit of an extrapolation in my opinion. Other than that small snag this was another quality Vox video! I love your message and design, keep being great!

  26. theoldar says:

    Manet is my favorite 19th century painter.

  27. David V. says:

    I mean we definitely remember Jacques-Louis David ion know what you’re talking about

  28. campbell beaver says:

    We really shouldn’t just avoid talking about the black maid.

  29. Michael Kenny says:

    WOW… Absolutely Incredible !!

  30. Padawan Atodon says:

    Looks like a man trapped in a woman’s body. Or, is he truly “trapped”? Hmm..

  31. Alexander Colefield says:

    … I remember the people to follow the rules

  32. Random Guy says:

    Nice, rule 34

  33. dz ri says:

    3:18 A reasonably important difference VOX missed, was the dog sleeping comfortably on one painting, compared to the tensed up cat in the other; it adds to the whole contrast.

  34. springbay1 says:

    Mkay. A bit over simplified, but probably works on most muricans.

  35. TheGoodWario says:

    Also, the growth of photography removed the need for portraiture and allowed for experimentation.

  36. Cliche Guevara says:

    Modern “art”.

  37. Amy Duncen says:

    A possible suggestion for your next video perhaps: What a suspension of parliament is and the effects there of and possibly some insight into the inner workings of british government? I love your content because you put in such tremendous amounts of effort to release such detailed and accurate videos that work toward informing us about topics we could not understand fully or even knew about. I appreciate all you do and thank you for your effort.

  38. This world will never change says:

    Shamelessly flexed! Oh my God!

  39. Katherine Esquivel says:

    one of my fav paintings, shout out to AP art history

  40. Randy Smith says:

    Art Critics, anybody care ? Although I approve of a bit of moral chastity in art rather than the Negative, the put down, the disrespectful. But everyone by comparison goes to films they find they often like and may see critics who rip it as if what they thought was important. And it doesn’t.

  41. Hoenheimm 29 says:

    Mad lad!

  42. Brendan Grant says:

    "Paris was the cultural centre of the world,": Eurocentric much?

  43. erin childs says:

    moved the needle forward? bad writing, dudes.

  44. honoka says:

    more art series please!

  45. Organon says:


  46. Keith Duff says:

    I feel like this video just helped me appreciate art for the first time in my life. Thanks VOX.

  47. KatevonDick says:

    I got really excited when this video popped up in my feed. You guys did a great job explaining why this work was so pivotal in history!

  48. pumpkinkitty UWU says:

    loved this video so much!! more art videos please🙏❤️

  49. daLi demo says:

    people who doesn't know how to draw and didnt have patient created whats called modern art/garbage

  50. reezdog says:

    Paris was the Cultural Center of Europe not the world.

  51. Crushenator500 says:

    I absolutely love Manet. But Bouguereau and Gerome are also giants of oil painting, undoubtedly.

  52. potchimew says:

    I’m getting flashbacks to art history classes

  53. 2toesjoey says:

    Titian’s is waaay better just sayin

  54. Gormando18 says:

    Scandkulous ahahahhahahahahahahaha

  55. Joe says:

    People in the early days really liked having a b*ner

  56. SodaBeard says:

    I love the Olympia painting and how much controversy is it gave! My old humanities teacher always said that one of the reviews of the painting was "No pregnant shall ever look upon this painting, for they will most certainly have a miscarriage"

  57. James Hawkins says:

    I still think that it takes more talent to paint a picture that looks real (three dimensional, natural colors, almost undetectable brush strokes…) that what the impressionists and those genres that followed them.

  58. AI XP says:


  59. Griffin the black ice dragon says:

    OH NO A FLEXING HAND!!!! I want to see them spend an hour looking through devinetart.

  60. firelizard2 says:

    It really would have been interesting to know why L'Académie chose to flout convention. Half the video is explaining how they are rigid and set in their ways, then suddenly they aren't. At the end of the day, it was still L'Académie that opened the door to the next trend by giving Manet's progressive style an endorsement, isn't it?

  61. darth geekboy says:

    that painting ain’t got nuthin’ on “L'Origine du monde.”

  62. Jagadish Talluri says:

    Amazing Video.. Keep Rocking VoX..

  63. Maria Rayan says:

    "and when we look back at the history of art, we don't remember the people who were really good at following the rules, we remember those who punched the needle forward" 💖🌜

  64. nowaymangoshtomuchna says:

    well i would say both paintings are masterpieces in their own regards and if both artists lived at the same time and met eachother and seen eachothers paintings they would have shoock hands and compliment eachothers art.

  65. ThE DuCk says:

    Thanks Vox !! You keep my mind from going to rot on social media !

  66. Ryan G says:

    2 ideas: Abstract art and automation of the factory, the business implications are clear.

  67. Elanic _ says:

    Olympia. Smaller portland

  68. Alejandro Daza says:

    The cat's face tho

  69. Yubi K. says:


  70. Paul Pujeter says:

    You mean "the white art world" lol colored people have been innovating for years. The caucacity of this video is astounding.

  71. Aq says:

    I like the old looking art more

  72. Regina S says:

    As an art history major I'm grateful vox got others to care about this topic

  73. drottercat says:

    Interesting. Narration could use a bit more diction and a bit less speed.

  74. The Interesting Informer says:

    Yeah i kinda prefer the old paintings

  75. M. Aburas says:

    First, we need to remember that “European Art” is not “all art”, do not marginalize the world Vox.. please not you!

    Second, as much as I appreciate this episode, I believe that it is rather problematic. There are a few other stronger attempts to disrupt the academy control over “Western Art” that came before Manet. Take for example Gustave Courbet’s (A Burial at Ornans) of 1850.

  76. Tatiana Tatum says:

    There's so many facts perverted in this video, I can't even.

  77. Julian Felix says:

    Also photography was invented in the late18 hundreds making lifelike paintings less attractive helping modernist art to take shape

  78. yymin-ouch san says:

    the audio is on another level

  79. mark heyne says:

    Manet is the harbinger of Modernism. Van Gogh only became 'modern ' in retrospect, after Manet broke down naturalistic colour for psychological colour, aside from his assault on traditional genre painting. Incidentally, feminists should LOVE! Manet!

  80. TheLittleChicken says:


  81. Butty Object says:

    Nice prononciation of the French names 😉

  82. Qnigz says:

    It's funny, cause in today's art school it's quite the opposite. The perfectionists get mocked and in some cases not even allowed to study art and the expressionists worshiped. From one extreme to another…

  83. Kiritu George says:

    Have you seen the realism that is the arworks of ancient Nok? A stark contrast to the perfectionism of Europe.

  84. Jeremy Felix D. says:

    This video should be a series.

  85. Cindy Tucker says:

    Fascinating! Yet it remains heartbreaking that women in society were once only considered either a wife, a goddess, or a wh*re. We are evolving in a good manner here.
    There is an article in the Washington Post by Eve Fairbanks entitled, "The 'reasonable' rebels" Conservatives say we've abandoned reason and civility. The Old South used the same language to justify slavery. That would be an EXCELLENT project to work together about.
    Our vocabularies are important to our society's development. A word or a small group of words can convey a singular idea or several beliefs. Unfortunately, our vocabulary is not evolving as much as it has in the past and many people can be lazy in determining word choice(s). (Note: of which I am guilty!) I'm most certain that the article did not include all of the examples and similarities the author found. I think that a video would be fascinating (and educational) to watch!! Thank you!!

  86. paazbra says:

    I like the old aesthetics. Shame on me!

  87. The God Emperor of Mankind says:

    Doesn't matter what year it is, closed-minded people will always find something to be "outraged" about

  88. Just Some Guy says:

    So what you're saying is, we have Manet to blame for modern paintings looking like the products of middle school art class?

  89. James M says:

    “In the 1800s, most paintings looked like this” shows The Death of Socrates, 1787

  90. Kent Celicious says:

    Classical memes intensifies. 9gagers where u at?

  91. T33K3SS3LCH3N says:

    That was a type of Innovation by breaking the rules I can get behind. But it seems that modern art has driven this same logic way too far, to the point where some of the most expensive paintings are no longer distinguishable from first graders' scribbles, and the art scene merely retroactively interprets things into it that aren't there.

  92. Amr Amry says:

    Gonna watch nerdwriter after this

  93. Ayush Formals says:

    How the fuckis this video not age restricted?

  94. Dalmain J says:

    Wow they painted some beautiful white woman back then.

  95. Paragjyoti Deka says:

    the painting looks like the artist didn't know how to paint.

  96. Alxa says:

    and so; trash was born

  97. James Deininger says:

    Olympia looks like it’s unfinished compared to Venus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *