Museum-goers 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.
De Robertis “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 the viewer 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’s naked display was a little too real for the Musee d’Orsay tastes.
“There were many people in front of the painting. Security guards responded well, they closed the room and asked her to get dressed,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.
“As she refused, the police were called and removed her.”
The museum has filed a complaint for indecent exposure. De Robertis was remanded in custody and referred to the Paris public prosecutor, who will decide Monday 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.
“Putting an artist in custody sends a very bad message,” said Bouzenoune, slamming a “worrying judicial prudishness”.
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 penis 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’s chic Place Vendome by American artist Paul McCarthy that was shaped like a sex toy.
Then in 2015 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.