Edouard Manet created a scandal at the 1865 Salon with Olympia, his brazenly unidealized take on the odalisque theme; in his rendering, a black maidservant is bringing a bouquet of flowers to a naked, reclining prostitute who stares directly out at the viewer. Presented in partnership with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Posing Modernity is an eye-opening investigation into the legacy of that influential work art, specifically the evolving representation of the black female figure.
The exhibition explores little-known interactions between avant-garde artists in 19th-century Paris and the city’s post-abolition community of free blacks. Archival photographs, correspondence, and films shed light on artists’ relationships with their various models — students, entertainers, and others. Other focal points of the show include paintings, drawings, and prints executed by Henri Matisse before and after his visits to Harlem in the 1930s; portraiture of the Harlem Renaissance; and the influence of these earlier depictions on artists of the post-war period and beyond. Bazille, Nadar, Carpeaux, Bearden, and Ringgold are a few of the names featured.