I’m often drawn to the “outliers” in Victorian history—those who dared to break the mold and do things differently, even in light of the strict rules and mores of Victorian culture. Their stories can inspire us to take brave chances in our own lives, and to have the courage to stand out from the norm.
The painting “Nana” by Edouard Manet brings to mind that “rebel spirit” in the Victorian age. One of his later works, Manet painted “Nana” in 1877 and at the time it was considered exceptionally scandalous and was rejected for exhibition at the Salon of Paris.
“Nana”, Edouard Manet (1887)
In “Nana”, Manet gives center stage to a French courtesan as she gazes directly at the viewer, as though letting us in on an intimate moment. It’s an intriguing and thought-provoking piece because it brought to light a part of 19th-century France that was heavily cloaked in secrecy and judgement. The woman, Nana, seems a daring character, with her unapologetic gaze and self-assured posture. Women like Nana undoubtedly broke the mold of the standard expectations for a "proper" Victorian lady, and I can’t help but wonder about her life story and what she may be thinking as she looks out to us so brazenly.
Today, “Nana” is on display at The Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany where it continues to shine a light on those unconventional players of the past and the stories they lived.
Perhaps Manet’s work may prompt you to wonder…what are some ways you can break the mold in today’s world? How can you use your own creative voice to bring difficult subjects out of the shadows to open up dialogue and foster new understanding? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!