My latest book, The Artist, was the result of an article I read about the late Lucian Freud, a British painter known, in the latter years of his life as a painter of nudes, both male and female. As far as the women he painted in the nude, most of them were more than eager to pose for him, regardless of the fact that Freud made no attempt to exaggerate or reflect their beauty. I am sure that both Kate Moss, the famous model, and Jerry Hall (the former wife of Mick Jagger) have seen far more beautiful images of themselves, and yet they jumped at the chance to be immortalised in oils. Nudity is powerful and we recognize this when we see the paintings in galleries or in print. Even Sue Tilley, the famous Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, had no compunction in showing her body to the world, when painted by someone of such talent at Freud, and she posed for Freud several times.
("Passion" painting of nude woman reproduced courtesy of artist Irena Jablonski (USA)
Posing in the nude for an artist carries, it seems to me, greater 'respectability' than posing similarly for a photographer. Maybe it is because a painting is a one-off item, whereas photographs can be reproduced and manipulated many times. The painting is the artist's depiction of a person as they 'see' them, and conveys something of the artist's view of the world as well as his subject.
In my book, Theo is a man who was born into a minor aristocratic family in early 19th century England, but rebelled from his stifling upbringing and his unemotional parents, and left home to study art in Florence with some of the Italian great masters.
As soon as he sees Lizzie, with her Titian hair, her heart-shaped face and her smooth, alabaster skin, he knew he must paint her, and in doing so developed a powerful sexual attraction for her. His feelings for Lizzie showed in his finished works, and the dealer to whom he sold some of the paintings noticed this and asked him to paint more, for he knew there was a ready market for such paintings among the gentlemen of Victorian England..
(Nude with back to artist - ownership unknown)
A tragedy occurs, and Theo and Lizzie have to flee for Italy, where Theo makes contact with some of the artists he knew in Florence when he was a student. The sexual freedoms that Lizzie is introduced to in the artist's community come as a shock to her after her simple country existence in England.
Theo returns to England to see his dying father, who reveals to him, in a deathbed conversation, that Theo is not, as he thought, the first artist in the family, and that his father was hiding a traumatic secret. Perhaps this was the reason he was unable to show emotion towards his son?
I have never tried it, but I understand from people who visit nudist colonies that there is an amazing and liberating freedom from removing their clothes outdoors. Perhaps the act of removing your clothes for a portrait to be painted is similarly liberating? Perhaps there is a secret 'rush' from knowing that once the artist has completed his painting, that the sitter will be revealed to the entire world in all her naked glory, probably for generations to come.
In The Artist, Theo finds that the sight of Lizzie's body causes an almost uncontrollable lust in him, and is anxious to complete the first painting before he makes his approach, in case Lizzie takes fright and runs off, as this brief extract shows.
He wanted to get back in the studio and look again at Lizzie's soft, luscious body, even if it did send him mad with desire. The sooner the painting was finished, the sooner he could make an attempt on her virtue.
He prepared his palette while Lizzie disrobed behind the screen. She modestly tucked her undergarments beneath the dress, which was flung over the screen, so that they were not on view. Theo smiled to himself, as just the day before she had spread her drying clothes on the bushes behind the house. He found her idiosyncrasies rather sweet and appealing.
He watched as she removed her robe and placed it on the end of the couch on which she lay to pose. He caught a glimpse of her beautifully rounded bottom before she lay down on her side, facing him. He went, as usual, to slightly move her legs so that they were in the required position and longed to run his fingers through the soft curls that nestled between her soft, white thighs. He almost groaned in frustration. The girl was driving him insane. He was a man to whom sex was an essential part of who he was, and celibacy had never been something he would ever consider. He was becoming frustrated with the act of self-pleasuring. Being tormented like this was the cruellest of punishments for a man such as him. The time for action was fast approaching.
(nude with long red hair - ownership unknown)
Perhaps there is a vanity in having oneself painted in the nude? I would suggest that most women who have done so want a record of themselves while they are young and nubile. Older women, whose bodies are no longer (to them) as attractive, are more reluctant to have this image of themselves immortalized in paint. And who can really blame them. Society has always, and probably will always, place a high value of youthful and beautiful young women, which is why a group of activists, calling themselves Guerilla Girls in 1989, asked the question, 'Do women have to be naked to get into the Met museum?' The reason for this was that less than five per cent of the artists in the Modern Art section were women, whereas eighty five per cent of the nudes were female. I have no idea if these statistics have changed since that time, although there was a recent exhibition of naked women, painted by a woman, in London, where the women were older and a variety of shapes. These paintings were clearly aimed at showing women as people, first and foremost, rather than the sexual beings that are often portrayed by men. But speaking personally, I am happy to see nudity in all its forms, but there is something special in seeing a beautiful and sensual young woman, posed in her naked glory.
The Artist, by Juliette Banks, is due to be published by Blushing Books on August 8, and will be available at Amazon and other outlets.
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