I love finding direct references to art in the world. It happens quite often, but the latest print and video ad from Dior struck me as a wonderful example of how art influences pop culture and can remain relevant long after the paint has been applied to the canvas.
Manet’s iconic Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) depicts three figures casually lunching while a woman in the background bathes. Of the three figures in the foreground, two are fully clothed men engaged in a conversation, and the other is a nude woman engaging directly with the viewer. Emile Zola writes about the public reaction to the painting at the time:
“This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalized.”
What Zola refers to are allegorical paintings in which commonly nude women lounge amongst clothed men, but those paintings often reference Greek or Roman myth so the women were not meant to represent ‘real’ women, rather an allegory. The nude figures in the historical paintings do not engage with the viewer either so they are there to be consumed at a comfortable distance by the viewer.
The woman in Manet’s painting stares directly at the viewer acknowledging his presence with a smile. Her awareness shifts her from nude to naked, and the casual title of the painting makes it clear that this is no allegory but modern day.
The Dior print ad replaces the men with two other women, and the figure engaging the viewer is not nude. She does stand out from the others as a blonde wearing a bold, red dress compared to the classic black the other two brunettes wear. I also find it interesting that the two women engaged in discussion are veiled with pastel colored gauze over their eyes. In the video version, the protagonist is the only one not veiled throughout, which leads one to believe she either stumbled into this illicit scene or orchestrated it. It feels more the former, as if she is experiencing a fall from innocence into some wild pleasure garden (a little Alice in Wonderland), but maybe I’m taking it too far.