Nude Painting

Written by Sarah Provost
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Nude paintings comprise a genre beloved by artists and patrons alike. Over the centuries, styles have changed, but the figure study remains a favorite challenge for the artist. And for the buyer, choices range from de Kooning harsh to Renoir lush to Botticelli alabaster.

Classical Nude Paintings

With the exception of Nativity and Crucifixion scenes, the unclothed figure was rarely painted until the early Renaissance. Boticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus are the first two nude paintings that remain widely known. Freed by the use of mythological rather than Christian imagery, later Italians such as Bronzino and Carreggio painted frankly erotic nudes, often featuring Venus and Cupid.

This trend continued through the Baroque and Rococo periods, with Rubens' Judgment of Paris an excellent example. Comparing Rubens with Botticelli shows how far nude painting had moved toward realism from the flat, idealized skin of the early Renaissance. Ruben's nudes are fleshy and solid, not ethereal. Ingres later combined the glowing satiny skin tone of Rubens with the sleeker, more idealized forms of Botticelli

Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe is often considered the first modern nude. This is no classical goddess, but an ordinary woman, completely at ease in her body, despite the oddity of her surroundings. The Impressionists, such as Gaugin and Cezanne, brought color theory to the nude, using unnatural skin tones to create a deeper reality. Modern and contemporary nude paintings tend toward abstraction, but there is a huge selection of commercial paintings that depict the nude in a classical style, though with contemporary proportions.


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