The privat Nude

At the beginning of the 19th century, nude painting was essentially the preserve of male artists, not least because women were not admitted to art academies. It was only towards the end of the century that schools such as the Slade School of Fine Art in London and private academies allowed female students to draw nudes, and nudes painted by women gradually began to be exhibited in the academies. The expected voyeuristic encounter between viewer and nude figure is interrupted in the nude paintings of Gwen John, a graduate of the Slade School.
In the 20th century, when the individual personalities and creative practices of artists increasingly took center stage, their workspaces also became the subject of representation. For while the nude created in the studio had previously served as a preparatory study for other pictorial contexts, it now became a compelling motif in its own right.

When the first version of “The Kiss” was ehibited for the first time in 1887, the work caused a scandal. In a society in which sexuality was repressed, Rodin’s public depiction of private, passionate love was considered unseemly and obscene. As late as 1957, Rodin’s kiss was still considered too offensive for a poster motif.

Under the early influence of Italian Futurism, Christopher Nevinson created a series of dynamic compositions in the 1910s. His subjects were the London of the machine age with its modern means of transportation and the interiors of dance halls. During the First World War, he was one of the most renowned British war painters and one of the first to deal with the dehumanizing interaction between man and machine. He subsequently abandoned Futurism in favor of more naturalistic observation, but continued to focus on urban life.

The naked human body could be depicted by artists early on through the motif of bathers without having morally reprehensible connotations or breaking social and moral rules. This subject has a centuries-long tradition in the visual arts, beginning with biblical and mythological themes.

As early as the Middle Ages, artists were already exploring naked bodies in biblical scenes such as ‘Susanna’ or ‘Bathsheba at the bath’. This was followed somewhat later by mythological depictions such as ‘The Toilet of Venus’ or ‘The Bath of Diana’, in which the female body took center stage. Very early on, works were created that depicted a surprising physicality despite adhering to moral standards and often contained voyeuristic and erotic elements. A little later, the bathhouse as a place of social exchange became a popular genre motif that lent itself to an examination of the human body in various poses. With the onset of modernism, depictions of bathers in nature or in private interiors became widespread, particularly in France. Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse depicted their bathers on the shore, surrounded by small wooded areas, while Edgar Degas and Pierre Bonnard painted women bathing, drying themselves or combing their hair in a domestic setting.

Several of Bell’s early paintings show a naked or only partially clothed woman. Most of these depictions are meditative, appearing almost like self-portraits due to their mood rather than the physical appearance of the figure. This depiction essentially shows a floor with a bathtub and a half-naked female nude; a pond can be seen through the window. The matt and watery colours, similar to watercolours, create a very picturesque effect. Bell made various changes to this painting, including transforming the initially partially clothed figure into a nude.

Within the artists’ group “Brücke”, founded in Dresden in 1905 by Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, the nude had a higher status than in almost any other artists’ association. The members created numerous nudes. These included the ‘quarter-hour nudes’, in which they captured the most important characteristics of a body in the shortest possible time using a rapid style. They modeled the models’ bodies with simple forms and flat, expressive applications of paint, often inspired by African or non-European art and culture that they had seen in the Dresden Ethnological Museum and at ethnological exhibitions. For them, these embodied a simple formal language and something exotic that had an original power. They cultivated an ideal image that did not correspond to reality, not least due to international trade and migration. The forms of representation were often characterized by the image of ‘uncivilized people’, which was used by society as a justification for exclusion, racism and colonialism and must be viewed critically today – in an age of diversity, openness and equality. Their works demonstrate how the preoccupation with the colonized ‘other’ has affected the visual arts. A very unique formal language emerged in their nude depictions, conditioned by the fundamental idea of the natural and the influences of ‘primitive’ art. Their works emphasize the originality of physicality.

In his work “Bathers”, Otto Mueller uses black outlines and flat ochre tones to model five highly simplified naked bodies moving carefree in the cool blue of a body of water – they are bathing, splashing or sitting on the edge of the bank. The artist had been working with the depiction of nudes and bathers since the turn of the century.
Bathers became a central theme of his œuvre, which accompanied him throughout his artistic career. Using a wide variety of techniques, he attempted to capture the full potential of the bathing nude, the unity of human and nature.