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"Exposed: The Victorian Nude"
2002-03-01 until 2002-06-02
Haus der Kunst
Every naturalistic representation of the naked body was considered during the Victorian era (1837–1901) as morally dangerous. The common view was that nude painting, if practised at all, was of low quality only. Kenneth Clark, for example, in his influential 1956 study on the nude in art, did not find it necessary to devote more than a few sentences to the nude in the Victorian age, finally dismissing it with contempt: the only form of nude painting that survived the great frost of Victorian prudery in Great Britain, according to Clark, was a kind of guileless academism.
The exhibition Exposed: The Victorian Nude now presents another, new aspect of this age. It takes as its theme the development of both female and male nude painting in England. But was the nude an expression and zenith of high art, or was it an outrageous attack on public moralsNULL
With the accession to the throne of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) in 1837, the male and female nude portrait was accorded new attention and significance. The Queen herself gave her Prince Consort Albert every birthday a nude study as an official symbol of her true love. At first, however, the nude was considered an exclusive subject. Exhibitions consisted mostly of portraits, landscapes and historical or literary scenes. However, the fact that numerous English artists in the mid-nineteenth century completed their studies abroad led to a change in the way nude paintings were handled. Most of the young students went to Parisian studios. Influenced by the disciples and followers of Ingres, the artists began to fall back on the classical nude and ancient sources. The link to these classical subjects also freed them from accusations of immorality – the naked female body was held in strictly protestant England to be depraved. Female artists who posed naked as models in nude painting classes were associated with prostitution, so that their naturalist representation had to be accentuated by classical subjects. On the other hand, the male nude violated the strict moral code much less since it personified the virile ideal of conscious masculinity.
In this new situation, the prudish English nude, now felt not to be sensuous, lost its provincial character. The new-style nude spread rapidly – from the paintings in the Royal Academy to mass-produced photographs and magazines – and was received by an interested public. The nude became socially acceptable and invaded the realms of high art.
The exhibition, conceived in cooperation with the Tate Gallery of British Art in London under the overall charge of Alison Smith, offers a first comprehensive insight into one of the most fascinating and most strongly controversial subjects of discussion of the 19th century. It shows clearly that the nude was a central theme in the works of famous artists such as Millais, Rossetti, Burne-Jones or Sargent, but also that beside these protagonists of English painting, less prominent artists contributed to the complex history of Victorian nude painting. The exhibition makes it possible to discover or rediscover painters such as William Etty, Simeon Solomon, Herbert Draper, Theodore Roussel and Henry Scott Tuke.
The exhibition is divided into six main thematic areas, in which nearly all styles and stylistic changes of the 19th century are to be found – from the old masters of the early Victorian epoch, through the imaginative creations of the Pre-Raphaelites and the aestheticism of Victorian Classicism, up to the experiments of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism towards the end of the Victorian era at the turn of the century.
The exhibition Exposed: The Victorian Nude concentrates on the nude in painting, drawing and graphic reproduction, but also involves other media such as photograph, popular illustration, advertising and caricature. The questions raised here concerning morals, sexuality and desire have lost nothing of their actuality right up to the present day.
John Watson (dated 1853-1863)
Academic Study, 1855
33.7 x 26.1 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London