Oldenburg’s Pat, Lying as Olympia (1959)

Cézanne, Gauguin and Picasso each understood Manet's masterpiece, Olympia (bottom), in ways largely still unknown  [See Manet's Olympia Part One and Part Two.] Most significantly, each one recognized that the black maid represents the painter with a bouquet of flowers for his palette. I also argue that the maid, despite being African, is posed like Velazquez in Las Meninas and has Rembrandt's features1 The nude, "painted" by her, is yet another alter ego.2 She turns, not to look at a customer as convention claims, but at herself in a mirror which, by extension through metaphor, is the surface of Manet's mind.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Oldenburg, Pat, Lying as Olympia (1959) Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm
Bottom: Manet, Olympia (1863) Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris

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The contemporary American artist, Claus Oldenburg, is well aware of Manet's meaning though he has only said so in paint. In his inverted version (at left) Manet's maid is replaced by an O-shaped mirror, O-shaped for Oldenburg's name thereby suggesting, like Manet, both that the maid is an artist and that the surface of the mirror is the surface of his own mind.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Oldenburg, Pat, Lying as Olympia (1959) Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm

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Now note how in a self-portrait drawing created the year before Oldenburg has a particularly tall arch-like forehead, with one eye-opening higher and larger than the other.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Oldenburg, Self-portrait (1958) Pencil on paper. Museum of Modern Art, New york

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In this comparison I have tilted Oldenburg's Self-portrait in both details, making it slightly anamorphic though not as much as I would have liked. His forehead is now shorter; his chin a little longer. I did this because in Pat, Lying as Olympia the artist has formed the mirror into the shape of his high forehead (see original) to emphasize the mirror as his psyche.3 He has also stretched other facial features below to create a veiled distortion of his own face (compare to diagram). The pink flower by Pat's knee is the tip of his "nose" like a red plastic cup on a clown's.4

The circle decorating the apex of the glass, and cropped by the upper margin, is the "inner eye" of his mind.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Oldenburg, Pat, Lying as Olympia
Top R: Tilted detail of Oldenburg's Self-portrait
Lower L: Diagram of a detail from Pat, Lying as Olympia
Lower R: Tilted detail of Oldenburg's Self-portrait
 

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To the right of the mirror is a pattern that others might call nondescript (in circle). In light of this new reading, however, the shape now resembles a hand, the artist's hand to the side of the mirror and near where Manet had placed the maid's hand in his Olympia. It resembles a handprint. In placing it next to the "mirror/head" Oldenburg like generations of prior masters conveys the importance of combining visual perception with craft: the mind (or eye) with the hand.

Lastly, below Pat's legs, are two eye-shapes, one higher than the other as in Oldenburg's self-portrait. One is longer than the other too, again as in the portrait. Abiding by tradition, one is light and the other dark to symbolize both forms of artistic vision: the exterior perception of nature (light) and the inner perception of imagination (dark). Out of these two "eyes" the entire image is imagined as his own mind imagining the image we see. 

 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Diagram of Oldenburg's Pat, Lying as Olympia
Middle: Detail of Oldenburg's Self-portrait
Bottom: Diagram of a detail from Pat, Lying as Olympia

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Notes:

1. For Rembrandt's features, see Manet's Olympia (1863) Part Two.

2. The title of Manet's canvas subtly refers to both the painting as a whole and the maid's "painting" of the nude Olympia.

3. A tall, standing mirror, popular in the nineteenth century and early twentieth, is known as a psyche.

4. In art mental images are distorted to represent how an artist experiences visual thoughts. Many artists are far more sensitive than you or I and can experience aspects of thoughts that to us are subconscious. For more on mental images and their importance to Cubism, see the blog entry Cubism Explained.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 15 Jul 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.