A Beautiful Body of Work

Posted: June 9, 2010 in Exhibitions

Since time began man has tried to capture the beauty of the human body. Whether it be a drawing on a cave wall, a sculpture or a painting, the form of a nude figure continues to appear in all spectrums. Many people want to turn away from the naked form but I find the body (particularly the female form) a beautiful thing and love looking at all the different ways artists depict her. My exhibition will show a few of my favourite artists with their differing depictions, along with a short narrative to each one to explain why I like the image and something about either the content, context, form or methodology of the work.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Nude in Sunlight 1875-76
Oil on canvas
81 x 65 cm

This is one of my favourite paintings. The way Renoir has captured the beauty of a young woman sitting quietly, it makes me feel calm and serene, the same as the model. She is incredibly peaceful, but I can sense her shyness, with her eyes looking away from me. This makes me feel that maybe I shouldn’t be looking at her at all. It is Renoir’s impressionistic style of small strokes and unmixed colours on canvas that makes her skin glow. The sunlight appears as fresh and pure as the young woman herself.

Tamara de Lempicka
La Belle Rafaeka, 1927
Oil on canvas
64 x 91 cm

Tamara de Lempicka’s work grabs me with both hands and says look at me! Aren’t I beautiful? Although slightly erotic in it’s pose, I don’t believe the model knew how provocative the pose was. De Lempicka often painted her woman models in this format, almost challenging you to look. The body is completely blemish free, even too perfect, and not a brushmark can be seen. Andre Lhote called her style “soft cubism” with their clean, precise and elegant lines.

Tamara de Lempicka
Adam and Eve, 1932
Oil on cardboard
118 x 74 cm

This painting of de Lempicka’s is another favourite. I love the colour and composition. The woman is beautiful, unblemished perfection with smooth curves and skin, looking voluptuous, whereas the male is strong and muscular, however he looks completely enamoured with Eve, she is totally in control.
De Lempicka had spent her early years within the upperclasses of Poland and Russia, and escaped the Russion Revolution by going to Paris where she and her family strove to re-establish themselves. She successfully moved into the Parisian jet-set of the moneyed classes during the 1920’s and 30’s. This gives context to her work – she strove to show the glory of the times and the strength of being a powerful woman, very much in control. She was a driven woman and she only painted in this superior way. To me her works are very Art Deco, sensual and glamourous and very commanding.

Edgar (Hilaire-Germain-) Degas
Studie, Nach dem Bad, 1883
Pastel on paper
30.9 x 23.7 cm

Degas is probably my favourite artist. This example of his style of quick sketches with vibrant colour really attracts me. The apparent ease with which he has completed this work with pastels intrigues me. Degas produced many beautiful works in this form. His subject matter was often the female nude, and he was a master of drawing the human figure in motion. His style is demonstrated in his large series of ballet dancer sketches and paintings. He has ignored the background, focusing on the model which he has revealed with strokes of his pastel and unblended vivid colours. His impressionist style was softened by his use of draughtmanship, portraiture and composition. This was his point of difference from the other artists of his time.

Evan Woodruffe
Untitled (Dark Light), 2009
Resin, oil colour on linen
40 x 50 cm

This striking composition comes from an exhibition by a NZ artist viewed in the Orex Gallery. I was attracted to it because it has an unusual brooding quality, with an almost painful positioning of the subject. The subject could be male or female, and appears to be trying to turn away, wanting to hide. Woodruffe’s method is to use an image taken from either private or public collections, and then by using a monochromatic paint palette, he starts to paint in a way that fills his work with melancholy.

Hippolyte Flandrin
Jeune homme assis au bord de la mer (Young man sitting by the seashore) 1836
Oil on canvas
98 x 115 cm

I love this painting as it is stunning with it’s simplicity. It has an aura of spirituality and abandonment at the same time. Flandrin himself was devotedly religious and within this context he approached his art from a spiritual point of view. The content is of a young man is sitting alone, meditating, the fact that he is nude is almost irrelevant. I wonder what he is meditating about, and why he is sitting there all alone in the moonlight. Flandrin’s style is purity of line and colour, along with great technical skill with extreme realism.

Amedeo Modigliani
Nu assis ur un sofa, 1917
Oil on canvas
100 x 65 cm

I have included this artist and his painting as I like the different way he has interpreted his model. His style was also to use line to show body and form. But there is little realism in his image, the painting is very flat however still evokes a sense of submission. He had a unique way of showing intensity and with her head gently angled she looks soft and delicate.

Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907
Oil on canvas
243.9 x 233.7 cm

Although I am not a great fan of cubism, I do like this particular painting, and I have included this painting to show a different approach. The content is of five nude prostitutes, and they have been drawn during Picasso’s Black Period, when he was influenced by African art. Note that two of the woman appear to be wearing african masks. Due to the style of painting they look slightly menacing and disjointed with sharp angles but they still appear to be trying to lure you in.

Egon Schiele
Mutter und Kind (Mother and Child), 1910
Gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper
55.4 x 36.5 cm

And finally, I couldn’t complete this blog without a painting by Egon Schiele. Since the first time I picked up a book that introduced me to his work I have been fascinated. He often pushed the boundries with his content, and his first exhibition in London was called pornographic by Oskar Kokoschka. He is brutal with his baring of the subject and does not hold back with his depictions. The content in this painting are two beautifully drawn figures and the white highlights around them give them more intensity. The child’s arms are outstretched but the mother is turning her back upon her child. She is nude apart from black stockings, looking suggestively over her shoulder at the viewer, and with a glimpse of a red nipple she appears to have other things on her mind.


Author unknown. OREXART, Oedipus Rex Gallery. 20 April 2010. 6 June 2010.http://www.orexgallery.co.nz/artist_pages/Woodruffe_DangerousLooseness10.htm

Author Unknown. Jewish Vitual Library n.d. 6 June 2010.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/modigliani.html

Author Unknown Nudes. Kent:Grange Books Plc, 2004

Author Unknown. Tamara de Lempicka – The Complete Works. 2002. 16 May 2010. http://www.tamara-de-lempicka.org/biography.html

Neret, Gilles Tamara de Lempicka 1898-1980 Germany: Benedikt Taschen 1993

Pavolini, Corrado. Modigliani Italy: Collins in association with UNESCO. 1966

Pioch, Nicolas Degas, Edgar: Ballet dancers. 3 August 2002. 5 June 2010. http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/degas/


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