Painting the Human Body and Flesh

Back in 1995 I visited an exhibition of the late period Degas in the National Gallery of London. Among the works, were many with naked distorted female bodies bathing, drying themselves, combing their hair. At first it looked like the result of compulsive voyeurism of the aging artist. After having a second look, my view changed. these were not simple paintings. They were odes to the female body, poems without verses, songs without sound. The Degas pictures were wonderful sonatas, chamber music to introduce me to the complex world of painting the flesh.

The gigantic canvases where Cezanne depicted his bathers, came next in my journey of discovery of paintings depicting the body and the flesh. After the Degas chamber music, the time came for the symphony. Degas dresses his pictures with warmth and caress. The Cezanne bathers are bronze-like, and almost clumsy. These figures are not feminine in the sense that Degas’s are. In a sense they are naked Amazones, ready to fight. Some have called Cezanne’s bathers a reflection of his misoginy.

Any reference to Cezanne’s Bathers would be incomplete without the “Three Bathers”, which is the ultimate statement made by Cezanne regarding the female body and the flesh. A statement that expresses his complete lack of appreciation of the female body, in the sense that one cannot see even a fragment of passion in the endless surfaces of female flesh he put on the canvas.

The three figures are seen in a night scene, bathed in the moonlight, neglecting any bystander, focusing on their leisure and relaxation. Again there is no sign of femininity, nor of sexual appeal. The solid figures have nothing to do with the academic ideal, they are closer to ordinary working women, seen from a distance, as animals grazing the zoo’s grass.

Matisse loved women. His “Three bathers and a turtle” display his passion and love for the female body. It is like a hymn to the woman, prior to his painting the “Joy of life”.

The joy of life of radiant Mediterranean colours gives its place to the introspection of Central Europe and the tension of Expressionism.

The contours of the body are shores containing the waves of passion and desire.

The European North in the face of Munch makes the body a continent of rivers, lakes, mountains.

Lucian Freud, the grand child of Sigmund, brings the earth on the body, makes it a fertile field.

Francis Bacon makes the body a field of horrors. Deformation, dicease, decasy, and ultimately Death inhabit the canvas.

Jenny Saville paints herself and her sister as twins, and the canvas erupts with color gradations.

Saville’s self portrait is a scream. Her flesh melts like ice cream, it floats on dirty air.

David Hockney’s Teressa is a collage that invites us to rethink the space and the body.

It is time for the spirit and the bodies of the women already depicted to exit the scene. No other than Marel Duchamp is directing their grand exit down the stairs.

11 comments

  1. this post is really good!
    you are a real master when it comes to the construction of a text…

    from the chamber music, to the symphony and up to the absolute hymn… this music of yours is dedicated to women… nice

    1. welcome back natalia! greetings from riga, latvia, where i just finished a meeting.
      thank you for your kind words, all i can say is that no matter what i do, it is not enough, it is only a futile attempt to approach the magnificence of the woman…

  2. Οπως παντα, οι αναρτησεις σας πηγη γνωσεων….!!!
    Υπεροχο ποστ, μοναδικοι και διαλεγμενοι ενας και ενας οι πινακες…!!
    Καλη σας νυχτα!!

  3. Να γιατί σας αγαπάμε! Μερικές φορές σκέφτομαι ότι ο θεός έπλασε τη γυναίκα,ΑΝ πιστέψουμε σε αυτή τη θεωρία βέβαια, για να την υμνήσετε!
    υγ. Ο Μανώλης δεν θα τη γλυτώσει, μαζεύω θέματα που έχασε!
    καλή εβδομάδα στο ατελιέ!

    1. ρουλα μου, σιγουρα ο θεος την επλασε, κι ας λεει ο μισογυνης ο πλατωνας τις θεωριες του περι παρακμης του ανδρος που κατεληξε να γινει γυναικα (!!!!!)
      το λεει χαριτολογωντας, αλλα το τι εγραψε αυτος ο μεγας φιλοσοφος δεν περιγραφεται, και σιγουρα δεν συζητιεται οπως θα επρεπε, αφου εχουμε μπουκωσει απο την αρχαιολαγνεια και χωρις να καταλαβαινουμε τι εχει γραφτει, η ακομη χειροτερα, χωρις να εχουμε διαβασει, απλα διθυραμβουμε!!!
      ο μανωλης θα εχει τωρα δουλεια μεχρι τα χριστουγεννα τουλαχιστον!!!!!

  4. Να σας πωωωωω! ειχα γραψει ενα σχολιο απο τη Νεα Υορκη εδω. Μηπως δε το καταλαβε και το πεταξε στα σπαμ? Λεω μηπως. Σας φιλω!

    1. το πηρε το ποταμι, το πηρε ο ποταμος!!!! και χαθηκε στο Μπρουκλυν και εγινε χαμος!!!!

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