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Feminist nude painting - what is your favourite portrayal of a woman's body?

(174 Posts)
Imperfectionist Thu 12-Jan-12 21:55:57

The breast implant issue and re-ignition of the debate about modern ideals of a woman's body, especially a much-quoted survey in which school children shown photos of nude women picked the ones with implants as looking most natural, has made me want to make sure we have plenty of representations of normal (and beautiful) female forms in my house, for my daughter.

I do not read and certainly do not have in the house any magazines or media with images of women looking like they've had extensive surgery. My daughter (only three years old) often sees me (a normal shaped size 12 with post-breastfeeding boobs) naked and has good healthy female role models around her. We have lots of pictures on the wall, framed prints from galleries I've visited over the years, and I would like to choose a beautiful nude painting to join them, showing breasts in all of their natural glory.

I've racked my brains, and googled, and wondered if one of you might recommend your favourite portrayal of a non-surgically-enhanced naked woman in paint. The classical artists are sometimes too idealised; and often had barbie boobs even back in Michaelangelo's day. Some nudes are too sexually suggestive for what I'm looking for. I want a painting of a naked woman who radiates strength and beauty, who is comfortable in her skin, with no hint of voyeurism or titillation by the artist.

So... any recommendations for a feminist-inspiring nude painting? Hopefully one I can buy online from the National Gallery or online!

TeiTetua Fri 13-Jan-12 01:27:10

Something by Lucian Freud maybe?

Or perhaps he's too far towards the grotesque, but his stuff varies.

thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 10:19:13

I don't really get why you feel the need to stick naked women on your walls. The patriarchy has been doing it for quite a long time now. It's not subversive. It sends the message that the value of women is for our bodies and the viewer's asssessment of it.

John Berger's Ways of Seeing outlines the sexual politics of women being nude in art:

Will you be putting a naked man on the wall who radiates strength etc etc, showing his penis in all its natural glory too?

WidowWadman Fri 13-Jan-12 10:37:49

My favourite nude painting is actually a drawing - of myself feeding my baby daughter - I occasionally do life modelling and one of the students gave it to me.

But as for established artists - I like Egon Schiele's stuff, which is quite rough and not about artificial ideal body shapes, and some of Klimt's nudes are lovely too.

I've no idea about whether they would or should be acceptable from a feminist point of view, but find the idea that a feminist should not ever be able to find the depiction of a nude body aesthetic/nice to look at ridiculous

Imperfectionist Fri 13-Jan-12 11:14:44

Interesting posts, and thanks to everyone who has replied so far. The thing is, thunderbolts; I find the female body more attractive than the male, and it's not really genitalia I want on my walls as much as the beautiful curves and flesh and form of a woman's body.

And I also want to have on the wall, somewhere in our house, a natural pair of breasts to counter all of the fake implant versions that are increasingly widely represented. I love the idea of the drawing of you feeding your baby WidowWadman - I have some photos but a line drawing sounds lovely. It's a real reinforcement of how marvellous breasts are too.

I'll have a look at the youtube video after work: I am really interested in the issue, and it's one I am new to.

I do remember the 'do women have to be naked' to get into leading galleries campaign by Guerilla Girls, however. Did they advocate no nudes in art?

Lucian Freud I do like, a definite possible. I'll take a look at Schiele and Klimt. Are there any well-known nudes by women artists?

WidowWadman Fri 13-Jan-12 11:23:40

Tracey Emin has done some nudes, but I don't think that's quite what you're after. Come to think of it, Schiele probably is also a bit too sexual going by your OP.

mumwithdice Fri 13-Jan-12 11:58:39

Titian did a lovely painting of Venus wherein she has quite natural looking breasts AND a bit of a belly. I can't remember the title though.

alexpolismum Fri 13-Jan-12 14:17:55

mumwithdice I think you mean the Venus of Urbino

It's on display in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 13-Jan-12 14:23:23

John Berger is known for, among other things, donating half his prize money for a Booker to the Black Panthers in the early 70s, at which time according to the woman who later became their leader, they were an extremely sexist organization. I am not sure he's the best person to theorize about the male gaze and feminism (and at risk of sounding rude, I'm not sure any man is really equipped to do that).

Having said, I admit I'm uneasy about naked women painted by men too - I think however artistic and beautiful the images are, they still play into the same old ideal of woman-as-object. It's like the thread about the size 16 model being celebrated by Anne Summers, TBH.

I think the picture you describe sounds lovely though, WW. I like the idea of celebrating your own body, that's great. Not sure I have the confidence, but if I did, that's what I'd do. smile

wellwisher Fri 13-Jan-12 14:31:27

If you can compromise on the need for breasts hmm, have a look at Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings.

And if you don't understand why they're relevant, have another look grin

thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 14:46:02

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thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 14:49:08

Out of all the misogynistic organisations to take issue with as well, the Black Panthers is probably pretty far down the list.

I'd be looking at people's allegiances to rock-solid patriarchal institutions first before going after an organisation which based at least partly on dismantling an aspect of the patriarchy (white supremacy).

thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 14:54:50

Just to add, I think if you could show that Berger supported the Black Panthers because of their misogyny, then you'd have a point LRD, otherwise it's really a pretty random thing to criticise him for, and has nothing to do with the question on this thread, which in part is why people feel it's so important to objectify and portray naked women.

bemybebe Fri 13-Jan-12 15:20:33

"portrayal of a non-surgically-enhanced naked woman in paint"

Sorry, had to laugh here as I immediately remembered Jean Fouquet's Virgin that has some very interesting iconography (this work was commissioned by the french king of his allegedly poisoned mistress allegedly pregnant at the time).

Obviously it was not meant to be this way to the contemporary viewer (mid XVc France), but to the modern one it is one of the most surgically enhanced female forms there are... truly the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder (or not in this case) grin

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 13-Jan-12 15:42:21

As I have pointed out, I don't think - and I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but it's my opinion - that I would choose to go to a man to teach me about feminist views of the male gaze. I don't think he's equipped. The rest is just convincing me further reasons why this particular man doesn't leap out at me as an excellent pro-feminist bloke either.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 13-Jan-12 15:44:16

I have to say, I'm not terribly interested in how a man rationalizes supporting a sexist group. I am interested in why women often feel they end up supporting, or working alongside, people who're sexist, but if that is a double standard, it's one I'm comfortable with.

thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 15:48:06

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

PlentyOfPubeGardens Fri 13-Jan-12 15:51:46

Monica Sjoo's God Giving Birth, although it might be a bit woo for some sensibilities.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 13-Jan-12 15:52:18

Fair enough - maybe don't bother linking him another time if you don't really want to recommend him.

I like his books, I just wouldn't choose to link him on a thread like this.

Anyway, I don't want to derail. I enjoyed the O Keeffe images very much. smile

thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 15:55:44

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

MarshaBrady Fri 13-Jan-12 15:56:35

Go with a female artist. Rineke Dijkstra's work is great, but it is photography not painting.

I'm thinking of the undressed and frank images of mothers holding their newborn babies. These are probably a bit too strong for what you have in mind.

tethersend Fri 13-Jan-12 15:58:13

OP, I think you may like Jenny Saville's work- Here

Personally, I am a fan of Euan Uglow, although he was reknowned for treating his models of both sexes quite harshly with the kind of difficult poses he demanded.

PlentyOfPubeGardens Fri 13-Jan-12 16:02:24

here's the Guerilla Girls' poster

thunderboltsandlightning Fri 13-Jan-12 16:03:40

The rule is that women have to get their kit off.

Apparently we can even call it feminist if we're looking at their breasts.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 13-Jan-12 16:11:30

I was reading about Jenny Saville a while back - there was talk about there being an exhibition of her stuff near me, I ought to see if it's happening.

OP, I was wondering - what is it about painting specifically that you're wanting? Because you say you've got prints and I'd be interested to know what you're hoping to find in painting that'd be different from that, or is it just more variety?

Btw, have you read Zadie Smith 'On Beauty'? There's a really interesting (fictionalized, obviously) bit about naked women in art from a young woman's perspective that I keep thinking about on this thread.

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