It blew my mind.
A quick bit of backstory: I took a Fine Arts degree at university, so to see the ‘Olympia’ (and other works at the Musée d’Orsay) in person … it was a bit like a Christian pilgrim catching their first glimpse of the Sancta Camisa at the cathedral in Chartres.
Seeing ‘Olympia’ in its full glory, all 75 inches of oil on canvas, is a far different experience than looking at a photograph in a book, or even a slide during an art history lecture. The colours are more vivid, and I was able to get close to the canvas, seeing the brush strokes in the oil, and the care that Manet took in its execution.
And what does this have to do with writing?
Broke and desperate after her girlfriend leaves her for a man, Colette finds a job as an artist’s model. When she arrives for an interview, she’s surprised to meet a striking young woman, Lise Beauclerc. Her relief at not having to pose for a man turns to infatuation as she observes Lise during their sessions, creating fantasies in her mind during the hours she poses.
Colette has no idea if Lise would return her affections, and when she finally gets up the courage to ask her out, their connection is more than she’d ever hoped for. However, a few days later, Lise introduces her to Marcel, her former fiancé. They seem intimately involved, and Colette is devastated. Will her dreams of Lise be unrequited?
I’ve always been on the artist’s side of the equation, and a part of me wondered what it might be like to be the model. To be observed. To be made into a work of art. Pondering this, while being nudged aside from ‘Olympia’ by the other art lovers and tourists, the character of Colette first made herself known. What would it be like, to spend hours with someone that you hardly exchanged words with, someone who saw you at your most vulnerable, and who took in all the minutiae of your form, all your flaws, and put them onto canvas?
Spending that time with someone, seeing them for all those hours, could give you a bit of a fascination with them, like that person who sat next to you on a plane for ten hours, the one with whom you hit it off and conversed with steadily, until you felt like you’d known them for years. Though I don’t think the model for ‘Olympia’ would have felt that way, given that her profession was, among other things, to be naked and on display. But if it were someone new to modelling, who had never been naked before someone who wasn’t a lover…that’s when I had my idea.
And I gave ‘Olympia’ one last lingering glance before I left her to her admirers and went to the cafe to write.
The Artist’s Muse is available from:
Bold Strokes Books
Alyssa’s other works