Alias Olympia: a woman's search for Manet's notorious model & her own desire
C. Scribner's Sons
, 1992 - Art
- 181 pages
In this stylish work of imaginative nonfiction, Eunice Lipton re-creates a provocative figure out of nineteenth-century art history, Victorine Meurent, the mysterious woman who modeled for Manet's most famous paintings, Olympia and Dejeuner sur l'herbe. Was Meurent, as her contemporaries would have had us believe, simply a drunkard, a prostitute? Or was she - whose defiant gaze from Manet's canvas provoked a riot - an accomplished artist in her own right? Through the streets of Paris, an American art historian sets out on an inquiry into the life of Victorine Meurent. As the pieces of an untold story begin to accumulate, something unforeseen happens to her. Every step she takes to undo the erasure of Meurent's life brings her face-to-face with the boundaries of her own. Every day she loses herself a little more in the other woman. Finally, their destinies become inextricably entangled. The historian uncovers, and evokes, the model's bohemian life in Paris: the cafe's and alleys of Montmartre; the painters' studios and salons; the squalor, scandal, and feverish creativity. And Victorine takes the historian on a long voyage home, to the Bronx of her childhood, to her immigrant father's dreams, to City College of the 1950s, and finally to her own repressed desire to be a writer. At once memoir and compelling detective story, Alias Olympia is on the cutting edge of contemporary trends in biography. Why should a life be valued only as a series of accomplishments? Eunice Lipton asks. What if biography were a tale of desire? How, then, would we tell a woman's life?