Le Dejeuner sur l'herb

Literary Representations
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers

The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality




In the twenty-first century we see nudity everywhere. In teen magazines, television and the cinema the naked form is something that is showed very frequently. When Le Dejeuner sur l'herb, by Edouard Manet (1832-1883)was shown it was in a time where although nude portraits were seen they were of mythical or ancient women or goddesses. None have them portrayed women of the time and they certainly did not glorify the courtesan who, though they certainly existed were not discussed or publicly viewed by everyone. When this particular painting was unveiled, responses to it were not all very favorable: "it offends against modesty." -Napoleon III, 1863 (10. for source click here)

Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l'herb, 1863 (11. for source click here)

  • The picture shows four people, two men fully clothed and the two women in different levels of undress.
  • The woman in the back is in what appears to be her undergarments while the woman in the foreground is completely nude.
  • The painting asks the question what exactly is for lunch?
  • The woman is staring directly out at the viewer. It was not considered acceptable for such a woman to boldly stare at anyone.
  • Both men are dressed in contemporary dress. This depicts the woman , surely a courtesan to be undressed with two men, as someone who existed in the time that painting was released. This was highly scandalous.
  • The cap worn by the one man is a faluche, a common hat of students at the time. His cane is also seen as a phallic symbol.
  • For two women to be out in the open in such states of undress was shocking. It was later discovered that Manet had painted this picture in his studio.
  • To openly showcase a woman, assumed to be a courtesan, in the open with two men of the time was something that was simply not done. It brought the fact that courtesans existed into the public eye in a way that had not been done before.

This picture caused quite a bit of outrage. "The public was scandalized by this nude, which was all it saw in the painting. 'Good heavens! How indecent! A woman without a stitch on alongside two clothed men.' Such a thing had never been seen before! But that was a gross mistake, for in the Louvre there are more then fifty canvases in which both clothed and nude figures occur." -Emile Zola (10. for source click here)

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visual representations