Notes on the Nude : A Year of Debate

This year has seen a number of arts institutions embroiled in heated debate over the exhibition ( or removal) of art featuring nude or naked bodies.

We take a look at some of the issues that have come to the fore, and muse on the surprisingly precarious position of 'the Nude' in contemporary discourse...

The 'Nude Police' turn gallery-goers away from a Rubens Painting, in a spoof video for Flanders Tourism Board

The first sign that 2018 might be a troubling year for the posed and partially clothed was the furore that greeted Manchester Art Gallery in January.

The Gallery decided to remove the popular Pre-Raphaelite painting 'Hylas and the Nymphs', (depicting several sensual, partially clothed female bodies) from it's walls.

The galleries action was not a permanent curatorial move, but rather a deliberate provocation and invitation to debate.

The temporary removal was part of a participatory exhibition in which visitors were invited to leave their thoughts on the painting (and its absence) on post-it notes in the blank space of the gallery wall.

The move prompted a furious backlash, with anger and derision moving from post-it notes to twitter to national news networks. Many believed the removal amounted to censorship, with the gallery accused of both Victorian prudishness and patronising political-correctness.

Whatever you may think of the decision - a debate was certainly begun , and the painting is now back on permanent display.

 As many social media platforms, including Facebook, have placed bans or restrictions on posts containing the artistic nude, users have reacted with confusion and fury.

In July, a canny PR team at the Flanders Tourism Board decided to capitalise on the multiple debates and disagreements that had played out over social media during the year.

The tourism board created a humorous video  of  'Nude Police' approaching and escorting away gallery-goers at Ruben's House in Antwerp to prevent them from gazing at the morally compromising figures of Ruben's famous nude figures.

The video and the subsequent tourism campaign , declaring 'Social Media Doesn't Want You To See Ruben's Paintings' was playful in tone, but raised some serious questions.

Debates over the nude in public exhibitions continue to rumble on in the UK press. This week The Royal Academy's planned exhibition on Renaissance Nudes was accused by The Telegraph of having 'a strict gender quota' on naked figures in response to the #metoo and #timesup movements.

Curators of the exhibition have denied any such influence, and have pointed to the widespread use of the male nude in art of the Renaissance.

The nude in art , particularly art on public display, has sparked debate throughout history. The social and political mores of the time have always been brought to bear on the discussion of these objects. It seems as if 2018 may be a critical and intriguing flash point in the reception of the artistic nude in our own time.

We've picked out some of the finest artistic examples of the nude in art objects currently both on display and on sale at here at Grays...

Detail from Yuri Klevtsov 'Nude' Oil on Canvas, 1970s. Available at Tabunov Antiques

Nikolay Kasevich 'Female Nude' Oil on Canvas, 1934.  Available at Tabunov Antiques

Silver and Enamel Mounted Jasper Box. German, c1680. Available at Peter Szuhay

Agate Cameo, Italian. Probably a 16th Century Copy of an Ancient Design. Available at Peter Szhuay 
Frederico Carasso 'Standing Nude' 1966. Bronze. Available at David Horton

Follower of Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Chalk on Paper, c1900. Available at Patrick Boyd Carpenter Fine Art

Anders Zorn 'The Two' Etching c1916. Available at Anita Gray

Meissen Vase with Two Panels of Cupid, c1880. Available at Serhat Ahmet 


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