The modern Nude

As the modern nude established itself as an independent genre, it was able to dispense with a narrative or historical context. As a result, the depiction of the nude form increasingly became a medium for formal experiments that explored new concepts for the observation and reproduction of the human body. Instead of primarily imitating the visible, styles such as Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism and Vorticism explored new forms of representation at the beginning of the 20th century. They saw a connection between the abstraction and simplification of the figure that they practised and the sculptural works of pre-classical and non-European cultures, which were described as ‘primitive’ art at the time. The art movements of modernism used nudes to explore the idea of different perspectives, the emotional effect of colors and the reduction of the human figure to geometric components. 

The painting was created in Cornwall, where Grace Pailthorpe and her partner, the painter Reuben Mednikoff, lived from 1935. It shows a fetus eating in its mother’s womb. The picture support is divided horizontally into two halves by a curved line. The lower part shows a blue basin or surface, on which a pink, highly simplified baby can be seen with a tap on its neck. With its mouth wide open, it is drinking a nourishing liquid that is spurting out of a likewise highly simplified, standing green figure with pendulous breasts.

The way in which David Bomberg reduces the human figure to a series of geometric forms reflects his fascination with the machine age, which he shared with the Futurists and the British Vorticists, who were influenced by Futurism and Cubism. Officially, however, he did not join either movement. This painting also depicts the human form reduced to a few core elements.
In “The Mud Bath”, we see the Russian steam bath in Whitechapel, which was used by London’s Jewish community not only for personal hygiene and ritual cleansing, but also for socializing. The artist depicts the pool as a red rectangle into which simplified geometric blue and white figures jump in and out. The painting is probably Bomberg’s most forceful attempt to combine depictions of contemporary urban life with the pursuit of pure form.

Movement, especially sporting activities, provided attractive motifs for modernist artists. They aimed to translate complex sequences of movement into a simple artistic form. In Willi Baumeister’s œuvre, two series of ‘sportsmen’s pictures’ illustrate the fascination that sport, movement and physicality exerted on him. Using abstract forms and simplified lines, he depicted tennis players, runners, cyclists, gymnasts, footballers and swimmers of both sexes. In “Swimmers on the Ladder”, he used a color scheme of different shapes and contours to express the movement of the swimmers on the ladder.

Although Man Ray is primarily known as a photographer, he created several surrealist paintings in the 1930s. “The Woman and Her Fish” is based on an image from “Les Mains libres” (Free Hands), a series of drawings he published in 1937 alongside poems by writer Paul Éluard.
In this painting from 1938, a female nude lies stretched out next to a mackerel. Man Ray thus created what he himself called a “juxtaposition of similar and at the same time different forms”. The two figures clearly form a pair, but differ in the way they are painted. By reducing the woman to a schematic linear form, while the fish is depicted in illusionistic detail, two parallel worlds are created on one canvas. Man Ray strengthened the identification between woman and fish by choosing the English title “Pisces”, the zodiac sign of the paired fish.