In honor of the exhibition “Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse,” which opened on Tuesday and 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, 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.
“This is emblematic,” Murrell said in a statement, adding that art history “has contributed to the construction of these figures as racial types as opposed to the individuals they were.”
The show debuted at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery in New York, where it was titled “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.” The New York edition was curated by Denise Murrell, and the Paris iteration was organized by Murrell; 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.