Alias Olympia

olympiaAlias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model & Her Own Desire
by Eunice Lipton
1992 / 192 pages
rating – 3 / feminist memoir

Lipton writes about Édouard Manet’s notorious model Victorine Meurent and pads it out with  autobiographical material from her own life as well as completely fabricated sections from Meurent.  Lipton implies that she is looking for herself.

  • Pay attention to the whole title – this is NOT a book of art history – it’s a feminist memoir about her search for information about a painter/model woman who is not even named in the title.

To me Meurent looks a bit haughty there on the cover, softly defiant and beautiful.  Fr0m the paintings and very little else, Lipton thinks she sees similarities of character but she’s obviously looking for them in order to resolve her own issues – historians don’t work like that – they try not to work like that –  but Lipton wants to call herself that for some reason.   If the painted evidence is accurate,  Meurent was physically beautiful and she was also a modestly talented painter.

Here’s Victorine presented as Meurent’s “muse” at Wild Beauty – (good photos).  Her likeness is apparently an inspiration to many women, too.

Lipton claims there were virtually


“Palm Sunday” by Meurent

no female artists and even if she’s only talking about during the French Impressionist era,  she’s plum wrong. What she is right about is there is only one found painting by Meurent – “Palm Sunday” which is in a small gallery in Paris

Prior women artists include Judith Leyster – a fairly important name during the Northern Renaissance that Lipton neglected to mention and  there were others although the names are not many nor as well known as Leyster’s.

The Impressionists had a few, too – Lipton manages the 3 hotties (Cassatt, Morisot, Valadon) plus Muerent,  but neglects Marie Bracquemond,  Lilla Cabot, Helen Turner and many others.  No, they weren’t “important” as Cassatt, et al, but there were women around.

Next – it’s really distracting to find a number of paragraphs of bold print in the text and then find out that’s Lipton’s imagination at work in those sections where Meurant appears as a character or a 1st person in a diary or something rather than as a subject.  It’s pure-d fiction and I suppose it’s there to “bring it to ‘life.'”  – lol – No.  The narrative breaks for her memoir of life with hubby artist Ken Aptekar in Paris are equally distracting.  I want to shake the book (iPad) and yell “Get to the point!”

And as the book moves along Lipton drifts more and more into her own issues – her relationship with her mother was very difficult so she imagines that Meurent’s relationship with her mother was also.  (Bah humbug – I’m coming at this from the perspective of an historian – not a feminist.)

One of the problems with feminist history is that there is nothing to find because there is almost nothing there.  That’s the point – except for the unusual cases,  women were NOT doing many things other than getting married, having babies and keeping house.  So how can we find much? Women were oppressed – we’re not going to find a bunch of geniuses.

Another issue is that I had a bad experience with feminists in a college history class which a lot of women from the “Women’s Studies” program took. They had no concept of studying history – for them it was all about personal experience/ response/politics.

At the end of the chapter “Voilà Victorina” Lipton writes,

“I despise the politics of academia, and although I have tenure and am one of the more powerful women at my university, I continue to encounter an unmovable wall of men at every turn. Whatever the differences among them, whenever they encounter my opinions, they act as one.”

I wonder what she will do when she encounters “an unmovable wall of women”?   – It happens.  That’s how I felt encountering that “wall of feminists” in my history class.

Onward with a tidbit – the “Honor” mentioned at about half way is Honor Moore, noted contemporary poet and playwright.

About 2/3rds of the way through I got a sense of Patrick Modiano and WWII and memories of disappeared documents and people – only this time it’s not in a novel but the real deal.

Lipton apparently did a lot of actual work on Meurant. Yes, she did and it shows – and I do need to commend her for something.  But she was expecting a grant and when it was not forthcoming she padded what she had with memoir and fiction – a bit of seriously “creative nonfiction.”  And the time and space spent on personal response sections are stupid – Lipton is in tears being reminded of her mother and feeling guilty? –  Omg  –  My bad – I was expecting art history –

Another one – Victorine Meurent at Her Bath by Norbert Goeneutte