Artist held for stripping in front of nude painting

PARIS • A woman was arrested for indecent exposure after lying down naked in the Musee d'Orsay in front of Edouard Manet's nude painting of the prostitute Olympia, her lawyer said on Sunday.

Visitors were enjoying an exhibition entitled Splendour And Misery: Images Of Prostitution 1850-1910 when Luxembourg artist Deborah de Robertis got undressed and took on the pose of the famed Olympia.

"She was wearing a portable camera to film the public's reaction. It was an artistic performance," said her lawyer Tewfik Bouzenoune.

It was not the painting's first scandal. The depiction of a naked woman gazing directly at viewers created an uproar when it was shown in 1865. It is seen as clearly depicting a prostitute, a real woman, unlike the dreamy nymphs, religious or historical figures usually featured in art until that time.

However, de Robertis' naked display was a little too real for the Musee d'Orsay tastes. "There were many people in front of the painting. Security guards closed the room and asked her to get dressed," a spokesman for the museum said. "As she refused, the police were called and removed her."

The museum has filed a complaint for indecent exposure. The artist was remanded and referred to the public prosecutor, who was to decide on possible legal action.

It is not the first time the artist has scandalised Paris and the Musee d'Orsay. In May 2014, she exposed herself in front of Gustave Courbet's The Origin Of The World painting to reproduce the close-up image of a woman's genitals.

Slamming a "worrying judicial prudishness", Mr Bouzenoune said: "Putting an artist in custody sends a very bad message."

He cited the case of South African artist Steve Cohen who was found guilty of indecent exposure in 2014 after dancing around in front of the Eiffel Tower with a live rooster attached to his sexual organ with a ribbon.

Despite France's reputation as a hotbed of sexual liberation, art and sex have mixed badly in recent years.

In 2014, vandals deflated a massive sculpture of a tree in Paris' chic Place Vendome by American artist Paul McCarthy that was shaped like a sex toy.

Last year, a sculpture by British- Indian artist Anish Kapoor at the Palace of Versailles that was dubbed the "queen's vagina" for its sexual overtones was defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Artist held for stripping in front of nude painting'. Print Edition | Subscribe