The Naked Truth - The Nude in Art, and Drawing from Life
The Nude in Art - The Bare Facts!
Years ago I went to life classes with my friend Ella. We were both keen young artists and we loved to work directly from a live, nude model. Often these models were male, and Ella who had a suspicious minded, jealous boyfriend, could never resisting adding a few crucial inches here and there when depicting the male form in all its glory!
Our nude models came in all shapes and sizes; sometimes old, sometimes young, sometimes slim and muscular, and other times more amply proportioned. One older gentleman in his seventies suffered from alopecia and had no hair anywhere on his body. He was one of our favourites. The many folds and creases of his neck reminded me of a tortoise, and were always a challenge to draw accurately. He would sit so still, his eyes closed, that once or twice I feared he’d actually passed away whilst still modelling! Another young lady had so many piercings and tattoos that she was a work of art in her own right. It was tempting to draw the piercings rather than the form, but our tutor was strict, and he would get us focussed by asking the girl to do a series of five minute poses. This was a great discipline, as you capture the true essence of form in a few short minutes, and don’t have a chance to linger on extraneous detail. Life class gave me a brilliant grounding in accurately depicting the human form both clothed, and unclothed, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to aspiring artists.
Many male friends have asked me whether the models were 'hot'. Well, no, not to me at least. My main objective was to find the line and get down on paper a fair representation of what was before me. My fingers blackened with charcoal, or covered in paint or pastel, I would work as fast as I could to complete the task before the model changed poses. I didn't have time for anything more than passing admiration for a well-toned body either male or female, I was too busy sketching and finding shapes and negative space.
I came across another hub recently written from a model's perspective, and it inspired me to write this. I hope you enjoy sharing with me some of my favourite works of art!
Edouard Manet - le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe
Manet's naughty picnic
This large oil painting caused uproar when it was first exhibited. The nude component was not the problem, as the nude in art was well-established from classical times. The problem was the naked, and partially clad young women in close juxtaposition with the fully clothed gentlemen. What kind of young women flaunted themselves in the open air with such gay abandon? We can only guess. Needless to say the supposition was that these young hussies were kept women or worse!
Edouard Manet was one of the original French Impressionists. He was born in 1832 and died in 1832. This painting can be seen in the flesh, at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.
La Toilette by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec - a little man with a big talent
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec is justifiably famous for his many beautiful paintings and drawings of the 'working girls' and dancers who frequented the parts of Paris where he lived and worked. La Toilette is one such work.
Sparing in detail, this depiction of a young women preparing herself for the day is a bright and cheerful image. The girl has paused for a moment after pulling on her black stockings. Her red hair is in disarray and she is looking away, perhaps contemplating the day ahead. Toulouse-Lautrec conveyed so much energy and life in his work without ever labouring too hard to capture every detail.
Painted in 1896, this is also in the Musee D'Orsay, Paris, but many more of Toulouse-Lautrec's works can be seen in his former home in Albi. If you are as big a fan of Toulouse-Lautrec as I am, then it would make a worthwhile detour in any French holiday schedule!
Venus by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus - with strategic hairstyling!
I love this 15th Century painting by Sandro Botticelli. The picture is in Florence, and has to be on every art-lovers 'must see' list. The freshness of the colour and design after more than 500 years bears testimony to the skill of Botticelli as an artist. I also love the way Venus preserves her modesty with a strategically placed lock of hair!
Danae by Gustav Klimt 1907
Klimt's unusual viewpoint - Danae
Danae is on exhibition in Vienna, and is representative of Klimt's preference for an unusual viewpoint from which to make his composition. Klimt's love of pattern and texture make his pictures both unique and highly sought after. The richness of the model's red hair contrasts beautifully with the gold and green patterned background, and the huge expanse of thigh in the foreground is both sensual and unsettling.
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vincii
Vitruvian Man -one of art's most famous images
Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) was the original Renaissance man. His many interests included art, anatomy, geology and science. His drawing of Vitruvian Man must surely be one of Arts best known images, and it has recently acquired new fans through it's recent role in 'The Da Vinci Code'!
Vitruvian Man, quite apart from being a striking image, is actually designed to show the proportions of the human figure.
The Sleepers by Gustave Courbet
Courbet's erotic commission from Khalil-Bey
French artist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was a talented draughtsman who tried his hand at a wide range of subjects from landscape to portraiture, but it is this depiction of girl on girl love that is perhaps his most famous (or infamous!) work.
The painting of two naked sleepers, their limbs entangled in the intimacy of a close embrace, their hair tousled, was commissioned by a wealthy Turk, Khalil Bey, who was a renowned collector of erotica. Completed in 1866, the picture is now in a collection in Paris.
The Great Bathers by Paul Cezanne
The giant nudes of Philadelphia
Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) painted a series of nudes late in his career, and this giant painting nearly seven feet high and over eight feet long, was completed in 1905. In this painting Cezanne attempted to integrate nude figures with landscape, and he achieves this by making his figures echo the leaning trees which form an arch in the centre of the painting.
This epic work is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Les Trois Graces by Van Loo
Three Graceful Ladies
These three lovely ladies are 'Les Trois Graces' by Van Loo.
I have added this after following the link kindly left by Tom Rubenoff (See Comments)
Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebre
The Naked Beauty hanging in a Melbourne Pub
'Chloe' was painted in 1875 by Jules Joseph Lefebre. She hangs in the Young and Jackson pub which stands on the corner of Flinders Street and Swanston Street in Melbourne, Australia. She's quite a beauty, and worth seeking out if you are ever in Melbourne!
This addition to my gallery was recommended by Agvulpes (see comments below)
The Model Writing Postcards by Carl Larsson
The Model Writing Postcards by Carl Larsson
I came across this Carl Larsson painting purely by chance. I love Larsson's work, and I included several examples in my Christmas Art hub. I was so surprised to find this image because it's such an unusual subject for Larsson. I'm far more accustomed to the detailed watercolours of family life for which he became famous.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Larsson, he was primarily an illustrator living and working in Sweden at the turn of the 19th century. This particular painting dates from 1906.
Male Life Study by John Singer Sargent
Classic male life study by John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) had a long and successful career as a portrait artist. Born in Florence of American parents, he forged a truly international career, painting throughout Europe, and also visiting America on numerous occasions. He was a thoroughly cultured man who spoke fluent French, Italian and German, and he put these linguistic skills to good use during his time as a war artist in France during the first world war.
I've included this drawing partly because I like it, and because it showcases Singer Sargent's great skill as a portraitist, but also because it brings us back to the beginning of this discussion of the nude in art. Back to the life class where artists learn the basics of posture and form.
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