A female nude reclining on a bed wearing one yellow slipper on her left foot, a gold bracelet on her right arm and a black ribbon tied in a bow around her neck. An African American woman in a blue dress stands behind her holding a bouquet of yellow and white flowers. A small monkey sits at the foot of the bed. All subjects look directly at the viewer.
This work borrows its subject matter, title and composition directly from Manet’s Olympia painted in 1863, which depicts a nude mistress, or more likely a prostitute, reclining on a bed; behind her is an African American woman, presumably a maid, presenting her with a bouquet of flowers, while a black cat sits at the foot of the bed.
In this work, Mel Ramos blurs the line between the fine art tradition of the aestheticized female nude and contemporary pornography, suggested by his hyper-realist treatment of the nude, revealing her tan lines, her blonde bob, and her quasi-seductive gaze, similar to what one might find in any number of pin-ups girls. Ramos updates not only the reclining nude, but also the older black servant, who becomes a young woman with a stylish afro. He further exoticizes the scene by replacing Manet’s black cat, a common 19th century symbol for prostitute, with a small monkey that, along with the two women, makes direct eye contact with the viewer.