We ship worldwide 🌎
Carré d'artistes - Le blog
Inspirations, recent discoveries and world art events and galleries.
The art minute

What are the controversies about nude art ?


Artists and sculptors have been fascinated by naked bodies for centuries.
But even in the current era, nude is one the greatest subjects in art. Why does nude art continue to trigger controversy ? Let's take a trip through some famous works’ stories to get answers.



        nude art painting by carré d'artistes


What comes out from Adam and Eve's story ?

Why are we so interested in nakedness ? The answer could be short : we are fascinated by unclothed human's painting, photographs and sculptures because this art is about us. It's about drawing a body we all have. Nude art is about exhibiting the human being through his different emotional states. Though the definition of nudes changed all over time.

The Temptation, a William Strang’s late-19th Century (1899) painting shows us one the most important stories of nude in Western tradition. Adam and Eve's story from the Book of Genesis where they became aware of their naked bodies is exclusive. According to curator Justin Paton, the modern nude comes out of that story. Also according to him, two key factors impulsed the nude art throughout history : excitement and anxieties about what is hidden under clothes.

Different meanings throughout history

Nude is an endlessly and continuously changing form of art even if we may be used to thinking of the classical image of heroic sculptures that dominated art in the 19th-Century. That image we may carry in our minds is rather rigged.
Nude art is an ever-changing form of expression. For example, contemporary sculptures and paintings of the naked body differ from contemporary portrayals and Victorian works. Nevertheless, there can be strong similarities.

What is the correlation between
the nude expression and the era ?


The dominating form of expression in each era usually depends on the debates going on in that period.
When we look at the way nakedness issues are discussed in the western culture, our own time resembles the Victoria era in quite striking ways. Debates are mainly about idealization and honesty. When it comes to nude art, the dilemma between permissiveness and prudity arises. At times, a single naked body artwork can prove remarkably controversial. In Sir John Everett Millais's The Knight Errant (1870), the subjects were deemed too lifelike, and it caused an extraordinary controversy in the late 19th Century. Scholars refer to that work as the 'English nude'.

le chevalier errant nude art painting

How can a simple detail on a nude portrait take the gloves off ?

When we consider some classical figures such as Venus and Psyche's nudes, it can truly be seen as art. The breathing human being sitting before the artist is not really considered. In fact, the discomfort about everyday people's nude portraits was accentuated with the entering of nudes in the domestic space. In the 20th Century, naked bodies paintings could be seen in bedrooms and other types of interiors.
A small detail in the portrait or painting can make a whole work controversial. Philip Wilson Steer's The Black Hat (c1900) is a good illustration. The artist informed John Rothenstein that his friends felt his work to be indecent, hence he chose not to exhibit it during his lifetime. The reason why his friends felt this way is not the nakedness of the woman, but rather the fact she was wearing a hat while being nude. That simple detail was enough to push the painting into the realm of the erotic because a hat could be seen on many women of that time.


Discover Picasso and Rodin's romantic nude art

Pablo Picasso's Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge (Nude Woman in a Red Armchair) (1932) focuses on the power of an embrace between lovers. Though at first glance it is not apparent to an ordinary eye, it seems to be a lone woman painting. In fact, Marie-Thérèse is one of Picasso's muses. But a closer look makes us realise that two people are painted. A male face's shadow is drawn within her face, trying to kiss her from the right. The work illustrates how two people in love can be consumed by each other to the point they become undistinguishable. It shows how lovers are melted in the moment of the embrace.

picasso woman nude art

Romantic love is also well illustrated in Auguste Rodin's The Kiss (1901-04), naked portrait of two lovers.. This famous image shows an intimate and private moment of two people kissing. The genius about that work, according to Paton, is how the kiss is actually hidden from the viewer by the torsos or limbs of the figures. An intense emotional and physical connection between the naked lovers is demonstrated in the posture of the different parts of their body : back's muscles, legs position, arms and hands. All the details demonstrate how heightened the sense of touch is when you are in love. The hands of the figures show it particularly well.


What is the issue about exposing male nudeness ?

The “women's art movement” arrived with its form of protest of the nude. The new artists changed the way unclothed bodies portraits are seen and started questioning all the previous notions about nude.
Guerilla Girls made a piece where they took one of the most popular nudes in history and converted her into a feminist masked avenger. This happened in a period when the lack of female artists in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was being called out. The image first appeared on a city bus and made waves. As the image was deemed too provocative, it was very soon removed. Guerilla Girls lease was also terminated. The figure held a pink fan modified to become obviously phallic. That's the main reason why many people complained, not because of the naked female body itself.

What happened demonstrated that the public is uncomfortable with male body's exhibition but they are comfortable exposing female nakedness.

Nowadays, naked bodies are seen everywhere and we are desensitised to it. Though the nakedness is usually hidden behind a character or a marketing object. Yet we are still shocked when human being is exposed in its barest form like in Ron Mueck's work entitled Wild Man (2005). It's something people may never get used to.


Unique art for...

We use cookies to give you the best shopping experience. If you continue to use our services, we will assume that you agree to the use of such cookies. Find out more about cookies and how to refuse them.