This brazen, Rubenesque broad was the height of scandal
and remains a shock even in her current exhibition space at Yale, where she sits next to more placid French landscapes from the time. The model is engaged
in a popular contemporary form of cross-dressing, which incidentally may have been more offensive and deviant to cultivated museum-going audiences of the day than nudity was. Manet’s composition only highlights her unashamed flaunting of her subversive
attire: With the triangular arrangement of the woman’s torso and two oranges on the floor, we can’t help but direct our eyes straight up the body and into to the face of the faux-Spaniard staring right back at us. It’s discomfiting, even today, to look into the face of this woman, who is perhaps more aggressively “male” in her direct, dark-eyed stare toward the viewer than in anything she actually
wears. Manet therefore reminds
us that an artist’s subject can challenge
our presumptions—in this case, presumptions about gender—as much as an artist can himself.