A floral arrangement as daringly sensual as Manet’s ‘Olympia’

THE ARRANGEMENT | Dahlias, peonies and proteas imitate the luxurious linens of the Olympia by Edouard Manet. Black Glazed Terracotta Bowl, Similar Styles from $ 125, Seaport Flowers and Home, 718-858-6443


Photo:

STEPHEN KENT JOHNSON FOR WALL STREET JOURNAL, FLOWER STYLE BY LINDSEY TAYLOR, ACCESSORIES STYLE BY CARLA GONZALEZ-HART

WE CAN IMAGINE the indignation provoked by “Olympia”, by Edouard Manet (1832-1883), when the painting appeared at the Paris Salon in 1865. Even today, her frankly sexual nude is daring.

“Olympia” by Edouard Manet


Photo:

Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

The details of the painting recall the subject as a prostitute or a demi-mondaine: she is lying on an oriental shawl, wearing only a bracelet, earrings, a ribbon around her neck and a flower in her hair. Her (then outrageous) bare toes can be seen as a servant offers flowers from an admirer and a black cat stares at him, almost as brazenly confident as the young woman herself.

When I chose the art to perform for this month’s column, I was drawn to “Olympia” even though its slightly eerie tone, horizontality, and the contrast of pale tissue and skin against the background. dark seemed difficult.

Before heading to the flower market, I turned to my end of season garden to see what matched the brief. I collected a few branches of dark ‘Little Devil’ Physocarpus, the latest ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias, and large, wispy bonarensis verbena, whose finger-like tips reminded me of painting hands. At the market, I chose creamy white peonies, the palest fleshy pink protea “Blushing Bride” and Andromeda, whose dangling flowers mimic dangling jewelry and the languid body of Olympia.

For a container, I chose a low gloss black terracotta bowl with a small opening. After framing horizontal lines with foliage, I layered whites and pale pinks to mimic the undulating rhythms of the painting. As a nod to her hair adornment, I tucked a lily behind her back.

My goal was to create an exhibit as luxurious and alluring as Olympia’s perch, not to mention the woman herself.

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