One of my favourite subjects in Art History is that of gender; particularly how women are depicted in art. The female nude is a genre with a set of conventions that have been established with regard to how women are portrayed. Women are most frequently illustrated in a reclining pose, such as in the “Nude Green Leaves and Bust”, a format that is highly suggestive of sexual availability.
In this series, I am going to be looking at the artworks of female artists to show how they challenged these conventions and how they depict the subject of the female nude as opposed to male artists.
The two artworks, ‘La Grand Odalisque’ and ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust;’ were both created by male artists. Although painted centuries apart, the composition and how the female subject is styled is similar in both. Each of the women are shown either on a bed or in a pose that is reminiscent of lying in a bed. This presentation has connotations of an arena for sexual activity, and thus represents the woman as a passive vessel of sexuality.
The guise in which the artists have depicted their female subjects can be viewed as a convention for the portrayal of women in art as pleasurable beings designed and arranged for male satisfaction.
Sexuality however is more than just the presentation of an image of a naked woman with her nude body on display; the sexuality of an image is rooted in its visual form and how it is represented to the viewer.[i] Therefore, when concerned with the female nude genre, the “sexual component of the image” is tied to how the body has been styled and in the practice of looking at this portrayal.
These two artworks serve as good examples of how the female nude was approached in art and was typically created in the male gaze; a term which will be explored in the next part of the Women In Art series.