Prudery and Passion - The Nude in Victorian Times
Exhibition 01.03 – 02.06.02
To the contemporaries of the Victorian Age, (1837–1901), any naturalistic depiction of the naked body was considered morally dangerous. With the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1837, the nude gained new attention and significance, especially as the queen gave her prince consort Albert a nude study on every birthday as a "symbol of her pure love." In austere Protestant England, however, the naturalistic representation of the nude – especially female – body was generally considered sinful, modeling for such works deemed a form of prostitution, and the viewing of nude representations discriminated against. Consequently, the representation of the nude had to be elevated by classical subject matter to avoid the accusation of immorality.
The exhibition "Prudery and Passion" focuses on the development of the nude in Victorian England and, for the first time, provides comprehensive insight into this theme in nineteenth-century art, which is fascinating particularly due to its ambivalence. It demonstrates the central significance of the nude in the work of famous artists such as Millais, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Sargent, and reveals to what extent lesser-known artists also contributed to the complex history of the representation of the nude body.
The exhibition is structured in six thematic groups, which include all nineteenth-century styles – the art of the old masters in the early Victorian Age, the fanciful creations of the Pre-Raphaelites, Aestheticism, Classicism, and the experiments of Impressionism, before the Victorian Age ended at the turn of the century. The English Nude: Before the nineteenth century, there was no tradition of nude painting in Great Britain, in contrast to continental European countries. The specific "English style" evolved in the 1840s and was primarily centered on antiquity, but also owed much to the Venetian Renaissance as well as to Rubens and the Flemish School. Based on British literature, English painters developed their own national and moral approach.
The Classic Nude: As of the 1860s, French art – in which every representation of the nude was possible as long as it reflected antiquity and classical ideas of sculpture – became increasingly influential. The Private Nude: In contrast to nudes in public spaces, museums, and art exhibitions, where taste standards and moral codes had to be observed, the private nude – presented in private spaces and before a select audience – allowed a freer formulation beyond what was socially permissible. The Artist's Studio: A special reputation evolved around the myth of the studio in which encounters took place between the artist and his model, and the ideals of art with those of society. This conflict is clearly expressed in the Pygmalion motif of ancient mythology, which is why the English artists of the Victorian period made use of it. Sensation – The Nude in High Art: The nude found its way into high art in large-format paintings dedicated to historical and literary themes, which were presented in major salon exhibitions. Remarkable here is the preference for gruesome, perverse, and sadistic motifs in which mostly female nudes played the main protagonists.
The Modern Nude: Around 1900, the conventions surrounding the depiction of nude bodies finally changed. The new perspective on nudity from the standpoint of naturalism, and in a transformed social context, brought about a reevaluation of the body itself. The paintings reflect this process with images in which the nude human body was depicted by an unprejudiced eye and as a natural part of the landscape. "Prudery and Passion" concentrates on the nude in painting, drawing, and graphic work, but also includes works in other media, such as photographs, popular illustrations, advertisements, and caricature.
Stretch your view
Stretch your view
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