Olympia was the subject of reflection over a long period, and it was probably given shape around 1862, based on drawings made during the time Manet spent with Thomas Couture. It can be seen as the insolent triumph of a prostitute who has adopted the pose and name of Renaissance courtesans. The reference to Titian is as insistent as the expression of Victorine Meurent, portrayed reclining tranquilly like a sovereign.
At the Salon of 1865, with a few rare exceptions, it aroused strong reactions of horror. Manet had frequently introduced modern - and pernicious - reality into the boudoir of ideal beauty and fanciful harems. In the shadow of the black cat, as shameless as its mistress, the impure model offered her childish and common forms to a stunned public. What is more, as the servant indicates in an oblique way, this queen of the night is an exotic flower from the islands.
Manet had arranged for some verses by his friend Zacharie Astruc to be included in the Salon brochure:
"When tired of dreaming, Olympia awakens,
Spring enters on the arms of the mild black messenger;
She is the slave who, like the amorous night,
Comes to adorn with flowers the day delightful to behold:
The august young woman in whom ardour is ever wakeful."