In honor of the exhibition “Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse,” which examines representations of the black figure in modern art, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris has retitled several works in an effort to center the black subjects depicted in them. For the entirety of the show’s run, which began Tuesday, Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863), one of the most well-known paintings in the presentation, will be called Laure, in reference to the name of the black maid pictured beside the nude prostitute.
Referring to the work’s traditional title, Denise Murrell, one of the show’s organizers, said in a statement, “this is emblematic,” explaining that art history “has contributed to the construction of these figures as racial types as opposed to the individuals they were.”
The show debuted last year at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University in New York, where it was titled “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.” The New York edition was solely curated by Murrell, who organized the Paris edition with Cécile Debray, director of the Musée de l’Orangerie; Stéphane Guégan, scientific advisor to the president of the Musée d’Orsay and Orangerie; and Orsay curators Isolde Pludermacher and Edouard Papet. Works by Delacroix, Gauguin, Picasso, Bonnard, Degas, and others also figure in the exhibition, which spans the early 19th century to the present.
The curators have also temporarily updated the title of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait of a Black Woman (1800), instead calling it Portrait of Madeleine. “For more than 200 years there has never been an investigation to discover who she was—something that was recorded at the time,” Murrell said of the Benoist painting’s subject.