Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tasteful Nudity, Part I: William-Adolphe Bouguereau

I'll most likely be drummed out of the contemporary art associations I belong to for this post, but in the spirit of giving the people what they want, I've decided to add a series of "Tasteful Nudity" posts to the line-up here. Of course, "tasteful" is totally subjective, so if you don't like the first round of images, do check back.

The first artist in this series is William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905 - Academic Classicism). This painting to the right is his "A Nymph Defending Herself against Cupid" ca. 1880 (also sometimes titled "A Nymph Defending Herself against Eros"...as the Milanese would say, "Boh, Mah, Qui Sa?"). The Getty Museum owns it currently. It hails from an era that makes many contemporary art historians and artists cringe. And, as I'm sure you've guessed, that has nothing to do with the nudity. As Paul Jeromack explains in an article on

[T]here is [a] kind of picture that even the art press really doesn't like to acknowledge -- 19th-century academic paintings. Works from this category are both wildly popular and consistently strong performers on the market. But despite 40 years of work by rehabilitationist art historians and small museums, 19th-century paintings are looked upon as rather embarrassing, something that is decorative and middlebrow, hardly the stuff of serious collections.
I generally assume this sort of work is what most Americans think of when they say "tasteful nudity." I know Americans well enough, however, to suspect that a generalization like that will prompt many of them to deny such a claim for fear that it pegs them as unlearned or old-fashioned, or whatever, which is a pity. No one who loves Bouguereau, in my opinion, should apologize for it. Again, taste is subjective. I'd have one if it were available (of course I'd install it as part of some ironic juxtaposition just to maintain my street cred, but I'd admire it secretly when no one was looking...William-Adolphe Bouguereau could paint).

Here's another painting ("Nymphs and Satyr," 1873):

And one more ("Orestes pursued by Furies," 1862):


Blogger Jackmormon said...

Yeah, Bourgereau could paint--but I like Fragonard more...

5/17/2005 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

but I like Fragonard more

Not me. I like the harder edge Bouguereau brought (which is exactly, I suspect, what contemporaries dislike...other than the melodrama). I find Fragonard somewhat suffocating...but I'd rather not psychoanalyze why. ;-)

5/17/2005 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

Not familiar with Bourgereau…*

First impression is… uhm, how would I describe it? Overdone? Lack of subtlety perhaps. For whatever reason the second two remind me of an Andrew Lloyd Webber production on canvas. I can appreciate the sheer technical talent in the painting, and the dramatic uses of color and light, but… I don't connect.

I didn't like Cats or Phantom either. Make any sense?

5/17/2005 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Overdone? Lack of subtlety perhaps.

I'd agree. Too staged, too melodramatic, too choreographed (does everyone in his world take ballet lessons?).

remind me of an Andrew Lloyd Webber production ....I didn't like Cats or Phantom either. Make any sense?

LOL. Total sense. He was an academic...he knew how to paint. What he didn't seem to know too well was how to reveal something, rather than shove it at the viewer.

5/17/2005 03:14:00 PM  
Anonymous la artist said...

Tasteful nudity is hairless. Wasn't it Ruskin who could not consummate his marriage when he discovered his wife had pubic hair? You never see Jesus with chest hair when he's on the cross either. What's with hairlessness?

5/18/2005 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What's with hairlessness?

Hair = loss of innocence

dumb, but I think that's it.

5/19/2005 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous la artist said...

That and it's visually confusing if you actually paint it or even worse if you carve it. Interferes with the form. (Wouldn't it be fun to paste hairs on Greek statues?) Trees also tend to have inadequate leaves for survival in most paintings.

5/19/2005 08:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Bo selecta cubes said...

Hair is Cubic, nudity is Cubic. You must seek Time Cube. Time Cube is truth.

10/20/2006 07:45:00 AM  

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