Artist turned critic Charles Landon was unimpressed by Grande Odalisque when he saw it at the 1819 Salon:
“After a moment of looking, one sees that this figure possesses neither bones, nor muscles, nor blood, nor life, nor depth, nothing, finally, that constitutes imitation.”
Charles Landon, Salon de 1819 (Paris, 1819), pg 29.
Silke Förschler traces changes in the interpretation of Grande Odalisque during the nineteenth century:
“In the contemporary reception of Grande Odalisque, its cultural context is described as the Orient, where the female nude is interpreted as Venus, appearing in an unfamiliar interior. The painting was situated by contemporaries in the context of Oriental literature and travel descriptions and simultaneously within traditional parameters of paintings of the nude. Central to this discourse about the female body, especially about Venus, beauty and grace were expressed in terms of line and color. In Levesque and Watelet’s Dictionnaire des Beaux-Arts, images of Venus appear 134 times. In Salon reviews Grande Odalisque, as with Venus paintings, prompted considerations about beauty. In 1855 the discourse shifted when the Roman Catholic critic Eugène Londun Balleyguier discussed this painting in the context of beauty as a sign of holiness. The subjects of odalisques or bathing were not relevant to his discussion of beauty, only her body type – her elegant lines and refined contours. Because of her total beauty, the author considered it inappropriate to label her an odalisque. The ideal beauty of the nude transcends all cultural specificity, according to Balleyguier. She represents a universal example of beauty that stood above any specific cultural values.”
Silke Förschler, Bilder des Harem. Medienwandel und Kultureller Austausch. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 2010, 133-4.
Baudelaire comments on Ingres’s apparent penchant for female subjects:
“A rather distinctive fact about M. Ingres’s talent, and one which I believe has been overlooked, is that he is happier in dealing with female subjects. He depicts them as he sees them, for it would appear that he loves them too much to wish to change them; he fastens upon their slightest beauties with the keenness of a surgeon, he follows the gentlest sinuosities of their line with the humble devotion of a lover. His Angelique [Louvre, Paris], his two Odalisques and his portrait of Mme d’Haussonville [Frick Museum, New York] are works of a deeply sensuous rapture. But we are never allowed to see any of these things except in a light which is almost frightening – it is neither the golden atmosphere in which the fields of the ideal lie bathed, nor yet the tranquil and measured light of the sublunar regions.”
From Charles Baudelaire, “The Salon of 1846,” Art in Paris 1845-1862. Salons and Other Exhibitions, Jonathan Mayne, trans. and ed. (Oxford: Phaidon, 1965), 84.
Copy of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1822 (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore)
Odalisque and Slave, 1839-40 (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA)