Tag Archives: Picasso

Research point- Depiction of nudes over the centuries

It was the art historian Kenneth Clark Kenneth_Clark who maintained that there is a difference between nakedness and nudity.  A naked human body is exposed, vulnerable, embarrassing, he wrote in his 1956 book The Nude. “The word ‘nude’, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenceless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body … “

The nude has been a recurrent theme in art ever since man started to draw.  The nude had a place in cave drawings, ancient Greek and Roman art, and more recently in European art.  The depiction of the nude tends to follow the social mores of the geographical area and the era.

In the paleolithic era, an  early depiction of the female figure was the Venus von Willendorf (24,000-22,000BC)  In early civilizations the main dominant gods were of female deities symbolizing the power of motherhood, fertility and creation.


The ancient Greeks and Romans accepted nudity as a fact of life and were not worried by it.  Particularly the nude male body was revered, especially as a god, sportsman or warrior.  Statues had an idealised idea of beauty and proportion.  Mid 4th century BC started seeing female nudes- also based on ideal proportions. The


Aphrodite of Knidos was one of the most famous works of the ancient GreeksculptorPraxiteles of Athens (4th century BC), famous for its beauty,   meant to be appreciated from every angle, and for being the first life-size representation of the nude female form. It depicted the goddess Aphrodite as she prepared for the ritual bath that restored her purity (not virginity), discarding her drapery in her left hand, while modestly shielding herself with her right hand.

Medieval Christian attitudes cast doubt on the value of the human body, and the Christian emphasis on chastity and celibacy further discouraged depictions of nakedness, even in the few surviving Early Medieval pieces of secular art. Completely unclothed figures are rare in medieval art, the notable exceptions being Adam and Eve and the damned in Last Judgement scenes. The ideal forms of Greco-Roman nudes are completely lost, transformed into symbols of shame and sin.

The rediscovery of classical culture in the Renaissance restored the nude to art.  Donatello’s second statue of David, probably of the 1440s,was the first freestanding statue of a nude since antiquity- several decades before Michelangelo’s David (1501–04).


Nudes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings reestablished a tradition of male nudes in depictions of Biblical stories


Creation of Adam– Michelangelo- Fresco- sistine chapel (1512)

The female nude finally returned to Western art in 1486 with The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli


In Baroque art, the continuing fascination with classical antiquity influenced artists to renew their approach to the nude, but in more natural, less idealized proportions, perhaps working from live models.  Figure drawing was seen as the way to learn to draw and academies were set up for the purpose.   Both male and female nudes were depicted.  In the later Baroque period a more playful style emerged.  Rubens set great store in life drawing drawing.


The Three Graces – Rubens (1639)  The painting of the Three Graces provides the opportunity to combine three studies all from different angles.  There is no attempt to hide parts of the body that had previously been (sometimes awkwardly) covered.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, classical subjects remained popular, along with nudes in historical paintings. In the later nineteenth century, academic painters continued with classical themes, but were challenged by the Impressionists. Edgar Degas painted many nudes of women in ordinary circumstances such as bathing.  Eduard Manet shocked the public of his time by painting nude women in contemporary situations.


Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe- Édouard Manet 1862–1863

In the early  twentieth century the subject of the nude was transformed by ideas of modernism-  with experiments with form and the rejection of realism.  In early abstract paintings the body is often portrayed as angular, disjointed or fragmented.

Les_Demoiselles_d'Avignon picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Picasso 1907
In mid twentieth century,  Abstract Expressionism emerged in America.  Technically, it was an important predecessor to  surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation.
Kooning 1953 Woman3

Woman III (1953) by Willem de Kooning, the human body in Abstract Expressionism

Lucien Freud was one of a small group of painters who came to be known as “The School of London”; creating figurative work in the 1970s when it was unfashionable. However, by the end of his life his works had become icons of the Post Modern era, depicting the human body without a trace of idealisation,  He said “I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”

Freud -Benefits_Supervisor_Sleeping

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)  Lucien Freud


Research Point- Still Life Genre

I looked at Oxford art online and Bridgeman Education Library and various other links specific to particular artists to explore the development of the Still Life Genre.

Still Life (or Nature Morte) emerged as an independent art form towards the end of the 16th century in Spain, Italy, Flanders.  It allowed the status of the work to reflect the vision and skill of its creator rather than its subject matter. It was an opportunity to display skill, realistic light effects, colours and textures.  A Still Life was  traditionally meant to be read for its allegorical message- especially in the vanities theme of the frailty of human life.



‘Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life’ by Harmen Steenwyck 1640 is a classic example of a Dutch ‘Vanitas’ painting. It is essentially a religious works in the guise of a still life. ‘Vanitas’ paintings caution the viewer to be careful about placing too much importance in the wealth and pleasures of this life, as they could become an obstacle on the path to salvation. The title ‘Vanitas’ comes from a quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes 1:2, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’  from http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/still_life/harmen_steenwyck.htm

By the 18th century a lot of the religious/ allegorical meanings of the still life were dropped.  Typical of this era were kitchen table paintings featuring everyday foods and paintings to reflect the extravagance of life.

In the 19th century, the academic approach to still life was dropped and artists discovered a freedom to experiment.  The Impressionists explored colour and Cezanne gave still life a structure from which cubism is partially derived.  Cezanne is thought to be the most significant 19th century still life painter.  He was fascinated by optics and tried to reduce naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials—the cone, the cube, the sphere. He used layers of color on these shapes to build up surfaces, outlining the forms for emphasis..  Other artists from this period include Van Gogh who expressed a weight of meaning in his still life paintings. Also Goya, Renoir, and Monet were key still life artists of this period.


Paul Cezanne- Still life with apples   https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/paul-cezanne-still-life-with-apples-1895-98

In the 20th century art became essentially about the creation of new orderings of shape and appearance and still life was reinvented in a myriad of ways.  Henri Matisse for example pushed the boundaries of colour.  A lot of pop art is based on still life and the iconography of images. e.g. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans (1962)   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell%27s_Soup_Cans

Henri Matisse - Still life with Geraniums (1910)
Henri Matisse – Still life with Geraniums (1910)


In Patrick Caulfield’s work, including vases of flowers,  (1962) the elements of the still life are honed back to the bare minimum- flat outlines of objects against angular geometric shapes and unmodulated areas of colour.

Vases of Flowers 1962 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with assistance from the Tate Gallery Publications Department and the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02031
Vases of Flowers 1962 Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005 Purchased with assistance from the Tate Gallery Publications Department and the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02031

Cubists such as Braque and Picasso used colour, line, and outline to shatter the boundaries around objects- representing objects from several view points at the same time.

In Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Skull, Leeks and Pitcher  1945, the symbolism of the vanities is re-invoked, reminding the viewer of the transience of human existence

Contemporary artists, for example Peter Jones and Cindy Wright, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2013/oct/19/10-best-contemporary-still-lifes  are presenting a fresh new outlook on elements of the still life.  Many artists are exploring new media- such as photography and the digital age.  There is a freedom to explore the morbid, macabre and horrific, as well as the mundane and beautiful, and to focus on elements of the image rather than the whole.

Conversely, painters such as Tim Gustard almost swing back to the original Dutch 17th Century tradition with paintings of utmost photo-realism and more traditional compositions .   tim-gustard-the-kitchen-tablehttp://www.totteridgegallery.com/artist/tim-gustard/the-kitchen-table.html