Manet and the Scandal of Olympia: The Birth of Modern Art?

Ref: C3531870

We are delivering this Christmas Lecture using Zoom. We will email, a few days before, the link to join the lecture with details of how to access Zoom if you should need it. Art historians speak of modern art as concerned primarily with the essential qualities of colour, form and flatness and as exhibiting over time a loss of interest in narrative. It is argued by many that the nineteenth-century French artist Édouard Manet was the first modernist painter. It is suggested, in fact, that his controversial Olympia ushered in the modernist era. However, quite apart from the debated birth of Modernism, the painting caused a socio-cultural scandal and received much negative criticism when it was exhibited in 1865 at the Paris Salon. The question why? Continues to be the subject of copious art-historical debate. This lecture will explore why Olympia both caused such a scandal and the reasons why she is, perhaps, the progenitor of modern art.

Course aim

This lecture will consider the seminal nineteenth-century French artist Édouard Manet and his infamous painting Olympia in terms of its socio-cultural impact, critical reception and its place in the development of modern art.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • This is a live lecture delivered by a subject specialist in an online webinar video learning platform. You will need to be able to access the internet on a device with speakers or earphones. There will be opportunities to take part in discussions and chats. If you’d like to know how to use Zoom please visit:
  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • discuss the socio-cultural issues and debates associated with Manet's Olympia, employing appropriate language and terminology
  • historically situate the origins and identify the characteristics of modern art through the employment of suitable art historical terms and language
  • consider some of the theoretical debates that inform the development of modern art and its critical reception during the nineteenth century

How will I be taught?

  • This WEA Zoom session is in the form of a lecture and will, therfore, not require your participation or any prior reading.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • Not applicable. As this session is in a lecture format, no feedback will be provided by the tutor

What else do I need to know?

  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more Zoom please visit:
  • If you wish to take notes then writing materials will be required

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

Download full course information sheet

Manet and the Scandal of Olympia: The Birth of Modern Art?


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  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
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  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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