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Photo by Gérard Blot/MN-Grand Palais, Musée du Louvre

‘Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse’

“Her name was Laure. She is recorded as a resident in the property books of 1862, paying two hundred francs for a room on the third floor of 11 rue Vintimille, an industrial building that had been partitioned into rental spaces. In Olympia (1863), one of three paintings by Édouard Manet for which Laure modeled, she looks toward the reclining nude courtesan expectantly, with a bouquet of flowers wrapped in paper. When Olympia was first displayed in the salon of 1865, very little mention was made of the black female figure in it, aside from several racist caricatures in the press,” writes Aaron Peck.

“Despite the fact that this oversight exists in most of the art-historical literature on Olympia, slowly Laure has emerged, particularly after art historian Griselda Pollock’s 1999 Differencing the Canon, based on archival research by Achille Tabarant, identified Laure as Manet’s model from a small notebook of the artist’s dating from 1860–1862: “Laure, très belle négresse, rue Vintimille, 11, 3ème,” the painter wrote.

“Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse,” at the Musée d’Orsay, builds on this kind of archival research to recover the biographies of models of African descent in canonical French painting. While Olympia, often considered the first modern painting, plays a central role in the exhibition, its scope, as the subtitle suggests, reaches far beyond that tableau. The show chronologically traces the depiction of black figures in French painting from the revolution to the mid-twentieth century.

Archival material from libraries and collections around the world and paintings gathered from both the permanent collection at the Orsay and loaned from other museums expand the scope and size of the show’s preceding iteration at Columbia University last winter, where it was titled “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.” Developed from curator Denise Murrell’s 2013 doctoral thesis at Columbia University, which argued that blackness and black people played a central part in how we picture modernity, the original exhibition explored the role of black models in modern painting.”


For more information, visit musee-orsay.fr.

Category: Exhibition
Musée d’Orsay
62 Rue de Lille,
Paris, IdF