OLYMPIA: Paris in the Age of Manet


Paris in the Second Empire was a vital city, with a rich artistic and literary life carried on amidst absolute political turmoil.  Using the figure of Edouard Manet as a focus, Otto Friedrich brilliantly evokes the events and people of Paris—often described as “the capital of the nineteenth century.”

As artistic inspiration, artifact, and social symbol, women dominate Friedrich’s text. Empress Eugenie, Berthe Morisot(Manet’s  great love), and “Olympia”—Manet’s model and painting—help to define the age, along with the story of Impressionism and the community of artists Manet inspired: Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Degas, and Cezanne. They painted to the music of Offenbach and Wagner, and were influenced by the works of Flaubert, Zola, and Proust. Baron Haussmann was tearing up and rebuilding most of Paris, while Bismarck provoked Napoleon III into war. Friedrich presents a highly idiosyncratic history, extraordinarily evocative and vivdly realized. Olympia is cultural history at its best.

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