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“Black Models: from Géricault to Matisse” Exhibition

Curators of the “Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris found out the names of black models who posed for Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. At a special art exhibition dedicated to these models, the world-famous masterpieces will appear under new titles.

Specifically for the “Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” exhibition, “Olympia,” a painting by Édouard Manet – a scandalous artwork depicting a prostitute lying naked, which marked the birth of modern art – was renamed “Laura” in honor of the woman who posed for the famous impressionist painter.

“Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” Exhibition

Photo credit: The Musée d’Orsay/musee-orsay.fr

For the “Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” exhibition, which has opened March 26 at the Musée d’Orsay, curators gave different names to some significant artworks after they found out the identity of the models depicted on them. This large-scale exposition includes, in particular, paintings by Pierre Bonnard, Eugene Delacroix, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. It focuses on the role of black people and mixed races in French art from the final abolition of slavery in the country in 1848 until the 1950s.

Art critic Denise Murrell from Columbia University (USA) mentioned that this exhibition demonstrates how black people influenced the birth of modern art in Paris, but were erased from history. Murrell insists that the presence of black people in art – from “Black Venus” Jeanne Duval, who was Charles Baudelaire’s muse and who also posed for Manet, to Cuban singer Maria Martinez – was a challenge that avant-garde artists and writers offered to a society where interracial communication was banned.

“Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” Exhibition

Photo credit: The Musée d’Orsay/musee-orsay.fr

Murrell and her fellow curators revealed the real names of the sitters in the new titles of exquisite paintings. Especially for the exhibition were printed plates, on which the actual titles of the artworks were placed in the second line.

The tone is set by the stunning painting titled “Portrait of a Black Woman,” renamed “Portrait of Madeleine,” opens the exhibition. Marie-Guillemine Benoist created it in the short period between the abolition of slavery after the French revolution of 1788 and the Restoration of Napoleon in 1802.

Nevertheless, the real star of the show was a black housemaid of Manet – Laura. She appears in at least eight versions of the painting, including two modern ones. It is “Olympia in Black Face” by American artist Larry Rivers and “Olympia II” by Congolese artist Aimé Mpane, who turned the flowers in the hands of the housemaid (in the original painting) into a bouquet with a skull, which the white housemaid offers to her dark-skinned mistress.

“Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” Exhibition

Photo credit: The Musée d’Orsay/musee-orsay.fr

“Black models: from Géricault to Matisse” exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris will last until July 21.

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