Édouard Manet’s The Surprised Nymph is in the tradition of Susanna and the Elders from the book of Daniel, where a young woman is disturbed in her bathing by two elderly men who threaten to claim that Susanna was meeting with a young man unless she has sex with the two men.
This topic is covered extensively in art history, including works by Rembrandt and Artemisia Gentileschi among many others. Suzanne Leenhoff was Manet’s model for this painting in 1860, two years before they would marry – her namesake may well have been the inspiration for the painting.
The theme is one of disruption and the invasion of privacy – both on the part of the elders and of the viewer who is implicated in this invasion. Just as the picture impacts upon us, we, with a violence of the gaze, disturb the nymph.
Édouard Manet’s The Surprised Nymph is in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina.