Elizabeth Haverford’s Provocative Painting

From our partners at Gothamist: Given that mourning periods usually lasted at least a year for spouses, Elizabeth Haverford is playing the merry widow in last night’s episode‚ so shortly after Winfred’s demise.

Elizabeth eschews black clothing and, more notably, audaciously flirts with Detective Kevin Corcoran. At the beginning of the episode, she shows him a peek of a painting that “Winnie” refused to allow her to hang, because it resembled her too much. And, later in the episode, we see the whole painting: It’s a painting of a nude woman, very reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s shocking 1863 painting, Olympia.

While Manet’s painting was inspired by the 16th century Renaissance painting by Titian, Venus of Urbino, as well as Goya’s Maja desnuda (1795-1800), Olympia caused an uproar when it was publicly exhibited at a salon in 1865.

Nudes had been painted in traditionally classical styles, so Manet’s modern, often called childish, approach made Olympia seem bold. Also, her gaze looked right at viewers, whereas Titian’s Venus and Goya’s Maja have coy looks. Critics called it “immoral” and “vulgar.” As the Musee D’Orsay, where the painting hangs, says, “The picture portrays the cold and prosaic reality of a truly contemporary subject. Venus has become a prostitute, challenging the viewer with her calculating look. This profanation of the idealized nude, the very foundation of academic tradition, provoked a violent reaction.”

Organizers were forced to hang the portrait higher, lest riots break out. However, Manet was surprised by the outrage, complaining”The insults rain down on me like hail.” Some, though, like Emile Zola, believed it to be a “masterpiece.”

Today, many call Olympia the first modern painting. Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salon, “Manet was perhaps the world’s first shock artist. Every modern provocateur who slices up a cow or assembles a Lego death camp owes him a debt of hype-making gratitude, but his influence exceeds his infamy.”

Perhaps Winnie was right not to hang the painting up in his Fifth Avenue townhouse, it probably would have given his peers coronaries.

  • http://twitter.com/fathermarkc fathermarkc

    Can you give some of the architectural details of the sets and/or locations? Looks like the church next to the graveyard and the children’s orphanage are actual locations? Are they? If sets, are they based on actual structures once or still in NYC?

    • Sarah

      The orphanage is built in a style that did not exist for at least another 10-15 years.

  • Terry

    Tthis is such a bullshit justification for a totally amateurish decision on the part of the writers. A very good example of lazy writing. There are plenty of writers out there that could create interesting stories without anachronistic nonsense. This is the biggest weakness of this series.