fine art

Before there was a Detroit Institute of Arts, there was the Detroit Museum of Art. And before there was the Detroit Museum of Art, there was a Detroit Art Loan Exhibition [1]. It was in 1883 that the first major art exhibition was held in Detroit. The exhibition contained over forty-eight hundred items, including oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures, bronzes, prints and drawings by American and European artists displayed in twenty-six large rooms [2]. For ten weeks, from September 1 through November 14, “134,925 people paid twenty-five cents to visit the exhibit hall” [3]. The exhibition’s success proved that “the city of Detroit has taste and wealth enough to found and maintain an art gallery” [2,4].

Temporary brick building built to house the Art Loan Exhibition for 10 weeks in 1883. The building was subsequently converted into a roller-skating rink [4,5].

During the exhibition, a newsletter, The Detroit Art Loan Record, was published. The complete set can be found in The Detroit art loan record. One volume. September 1 to November 14, 1883 [6]. The newsletter hosted the (rather one-sided) discussion concerning the Nude in Art that appears interesting.

The work of art that provoked public discussion was Nymphs at the Bath by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [7,8]. The painting now known as The Nymphaeum (1878) [9] was created as an “exhibition piece” and displayed at the 1878 Universal Exposition in Paris. At present, the painting is in the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California (Location: Haggin Room) [10]. The Nymphs at the Bath were the part of the Hazeltine Collection and came to Detroit from Chicago [11]. A superb collection of thirty-one paintings “secured from the Art Department of the Chicago Exhibition” represented “more than $100,000 in priced value” [6] (p. 148). ($100,000 in 1883 equals to $2,331,817 in 2018 [12]). The Bouguereau was “held at $25,000”. Despite the fact that Bouguereau was considered as the great master, the acceptance of the “Nymphs” for exhibition was not easy (in contrast to another Bouguereau – “The Twins,” valued at $20,000). Three ladies from a women’s Organizing Committee were invited to Chicago in a hope to convince them that the picture “would not offend”.

The ladies gazed in disapproving silence until suddenly, looking at Bouguereau’s “The Nymphs at the Bath,” Mrs. Stewart exclaimed, “Why they are dolls. Life sized figures would be objectionable but when they are so small the effect is quite different.” Almost in relief the ladies agreed [11] (p. 160).

The size of the painting is 57 x 82 1/2 inches (145 x 210 cm).

The information about the reception of the painting at the exhibition is contradictory and unclear. Cheboygan Democrat from 8 November 1883 informed its readers that “Bouguereau’s painting of “The Nymphs at the Bath” was hung in an obscure corner and was quite neglected by visitors, who had heard it was improper” [13]. In The Detroit Art Loan Record, one can read that Room K, where the painting was exhibited, suddenly became “more of a resort for gentlemen than for ladies” and that “a room 30 feet square is constantly filled with admiring male gazers” [6] (p. 189).

The Record offered “the masterly, if not conclusive, argument of President Bascom”, who believed that the practice of nudity in art “violates the laws of propriety”.

The source of this practice is against it. It is Grecian, pagan, in its origin. Because the Art of Greece has kindled our own, it does not thereby follow that a Christian people are to adopt entire the Art of an idolatrous and licentious people. <…> The Grecians were accustomed to the naked athlete, and had a right, which our artists and critics have not, to know the nude human form. Our artists reach their knowledge second-hand or surreptitiously then flaunt it against decency. <…> The forerunner of nude Art with us ought to be nude life. <…> Facts are against this practice. The nudity of Grecian and Italian Art in part sprang from and in part occasioned the licentiousness of those communities. [6] (p. 185-186).

In her newsletter column, Mrs. Sara M. Skinner wrote the letters from “Bessie” to “Mollie”:

I can’t help thinking that if the influence of nudity in Art is good, its influence in reality would be good also. Now here is a problem for you to analyze: If 13 females on a canvas are so beautiful with no clothes on, that a room 30 feet square is constantly filled with admiring male gazers, why should 1 poor live female be so condemned when she appears on the street partly covered with clothes? If nudity is ennobling, “purifying” to the beholder, why do education and civilization put clothes onto people? I tell you, Mollie, as you know, that women, whether nymph-like or not, never bathe nudely in the presence of each other, and lovely woman is so much of a prude that she for one needs not the nude to “purify” her. (The last words of Bessie [6], p. 189)

Looking at The Nymphaeum by Bouguereau, one can indeed find 13 “stark-naked nymphs” with “impossibly smooth skins” and “harmoniously proportioned bodies” bathing “in a secret woodland grotto, with a satyr and Greek youth peeping through the bushes”, just a “pure fantasy, meant to transport the viewer from the day-to-day cares and boredom of modern urban life into a serene daydream of classical Arcadia” [10].

I think maybe Bessie was right,

if the influence of nudity in Art is good, its influence in reality would be good also.

The Nymphaeum (1878) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

[1] Ardelia Lee, Before There Was A Detroit Institute Of Arts, There Was The Detroit Museum Of Art, Daily Detroit, Aug 21, 2016
[2] Bill Loomis, On This Day in Detroit History, Arcadia Publishing, 2016
[3] Arthur M. Woodford, This is Detroit, 1701-2001, Wayne State University Press, 2001
[4] Jeffrey Abt, A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconomic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1882-2000, Wayne State University Press, 2001
[5] Art Loan Exhibition Hall | Detroit Public Library
[6] The Detroit art loan record. One volume. September 1 to November 14, 1883, Detroit, H.A. & K.B.Ford, 1883
[7] William-Adolphe Bouguereau – Wikipedia
[8] Bouguereau, William Adolphe 1825-1905 [WorldCat Identities]
[9] William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Nymphaeum (1878). From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
[10] The Nymphaeum c. 1878 by Bouguereau, William-Adolphe – The Haggin Museum
[11] Alice Tarbell Crathern, In Detroit courage was the fashion; the contribution of women to the development of Detroit from 1701 to 1951, Detroit, Wayne University Press, 1953
[12] 1883 dollars in 2018 | Inflation Calculator
[13] Cheboygan Democrat, 8 November 1883

According to the art historian Michael Camille, the traces of direct physical attacks can be seen “in hundreds if not thousands” of “medieval illuminated manuscripts” [1] (see also [2]). Specific texts, images, or parts of images were found offensive and destroyed by “the owners, guardians, or users of these books”.

It is believed that images acted more powerfully upon the viewers in the Middle Ages than today. It can be explained by some aspects of “medieval theories of vision itself, which gave an active role to the eye in the process of perception. Vision entailed the eye’s actually taking an imprint of the thing seen” [1]. Medieval scholars have thought that either the eye is sending out rays to see the object or the object is sending rays to the eye. Vision was active, dangerous and “prone to sin”. Pregnant women were not allowed to look at “very disgusting animals” (like apes or monkeys) in the face, because they could give birth to children “similar in appearance”.

It seems interesting that “thirteenth- and fourteenth-century illuminators were not worried about” depicting human genitals. The earlier medieval period, “certainly up to the fourteenth century”, might be described as a time when images of naked human bodies were rife, and “when no danger was seen to exist in explicit representations of bodies” [1].

It all began to change at the very end of the Middle Ages, “not before the fifteenth century” [1] (compare [3]) . The medieval church established a control over public decency. In 1402 Jean Gerson, bishop of Paris, wrote a treatise on the corruption of youth, “which urged the secular and ecclesiastical authorities to introduce laws against the exhibition and sale of obscene pictures”. As a result, “postclassical” pornography was invented “at around the same time”.

Starting from the later Middle Ages, the numerous images of male and female genitals were erased from manuscripts. It continued up to Victorian times, when some collectors of manuscripts took a hand in the process in order “to prevent the penis being seen by wife and children” [1].

Scenes showing naked female characters were often erased from books. “The majority of excised female figures in medieval manuscripts suggests the work of later male clerics” [1]. There was a solid theoretical background for it. In Gemma Ecclesiastica by Gerald of Wales [4] one can find a chapter entitled ‘On not staring at women’. A medieval clergyman wrote: “Just as one should avoid the company of women, so too should one avoid staring at them or being stared at by them” [5]. He quoted St. Augustine: “Even if your eyes should fall upon a woman, you must never fix your gaze”.

Michael Camille wrote at the end of his essay [1]: “The fact that male and female genitals are still blocked in television representations of the body makes us heirs to a tradition that began in the later Middle Ages, when those heirs scratching out offensive and dangerous things from the beautifully illuminated books they inherited, or making representation itself the veil that covers rather than reveals, saw the obscene for the first time”.

Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)

Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)

Image: Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) (From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

1. Michael Camille, Obscenity Under Erasure, in Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the European Middle Ages / ed. by Jan M. Ziolkowski, Leiden, Brill, 1998.
2. Art Historian Michael Camille, 1958-2002
3. Vadimage Blog: History of one delusion
4. Gerald of Wales – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
5. Suzannah Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

In 1870 the English painter John Everett Millais, the future 1st Baronet and President of the Royal Academy, presented a large painting ‘with the almost life size figures‘ at the Royal Academy. The painting The Knight Errant shows a medieval knight ‘freeing a woman who has been stripped and tied to a tree’.

The Knight Errant (1870) by John Everett Millais

The Knight Errant (1870) by John Everett Millais

The tree, a Silver Birch, was commonly identified with the female gender in the nineteenth century and was sometimes referred to as ‘Lady Birch’. Birch twigs were also traditionally used in flagellation. The woman’s clothes lie on the ground to the left and her molesters, assumed to be robbers by one critic, are seen fleeing the scene in the top right corner of the canvas. There is blood on the Knight’s sword and the torso of a dead man is visible behind him. (Rebecca Virag at Tate Collection)

But this painting with such a naive classical content stirred up feelings of dissatisfaction among the public and critics. The artist’s naturalistic approach was recognized as unacceptable. The critics thought the woman was ‘too life-like’, especially in comparison ‘with the continental practice of idealising the nude’. In June 1870, the Art Journal claimed that ‘the manner is almost too real for the treatment of the nude‘.

Sharp criticism made Millais ‘cut out the head and chest of the female figure from his canvas and re-work these parts to show the woman turning modestly away‘. Through X-ray examination of the picture, it is seen that woman’s ‘head and torso were originally turned towards the Knight, establishing eye contact’. The painter didn’t painted nude female figures anymore in his career.

It is remarkable that the original section with woman’s head may be seen on another Millais’ canvas called The Martyr of The Solway.

The Martyr of the Solway (c.1871) by John Everett Millais

The Martyr of the Solway (c.1871) by John Everett Millais

Using these two pictures Martin Beek made the wonderful probable reconstruction of the initial painting.

Knight Errant 1870 by Millais and the Victorian Nude by Martin Beek | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Knight Errant 1870 by Millais and the Victorian Nude by Martin Beek | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

1. Tate Collection | The Knight Errant by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
2. Tate Collection | Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
3. File:The Knight Errant 1870.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
4. File:John Everett Millais – The Martyr of the Solway.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
5. John Everett Millais – Wikimedia Commons
6. John Everett Millais – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
7. Knight Errant 1870 by Millais and the Victorian Nude. Millais and Manet. | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

Traditionally it was believed that the Ghent Altarpiece was begun by Hubert van Eyck, who died in 1426 whilst work was underway, and completed by his younger brother Jan van Eyck, but some modern researchers distinguished the hand of only one artist, namely Jan van Eyck, in this painting.

This altarpiece is one of the few large fifteenth-century polyptychs that can be seen today in its original location at Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium (The Visual Arts: A History, Revised Edition by Hugh Honour, John F. Fleming). It was a fundamentally innovative work in its depiction of naturalism. (Blurring the boundaries between art and life: Jan van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece (1425-32) by Diane G. Scillia)

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve) by Jan van Eyck

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve) by Jan van Eyck

Karel van Mander (1548 – 1606) wrote that the Ghent Altarpiece could serve as proof of Jan van Eyck’s  scholarship, because of

the fig that Eve holds in her hand; for St Augustine prefers to believe that it was a fig that Adam ate rather than an apple; the reason is that literally the text speaks of a fruit, and does not distinguish which fruit; but they clothed themselves with fig-leaves <…> and not with the leaves of apple. (The Lives of the illustrious Netherlandish and German painters by Karel van Mander)

It was, of course, a great discovery by Augustine of Hippo and a sigh of real scholarship. So I thought I should make a note of it, to remember in the future. Concerning the altarpiece, one may say that its naturalism didn’t stand it in good stead. In the 19th century, the naked representations of Adam and Eve were considered unacceptable in a church and the panels were replaced by dressed reproductions.

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve dressed)

The Ghent Altarpiece (Adam and Eve dressed)

Only in the 20th century Jan’s Adam and Eve returned to their original positions. (see Adam and Eve: Shameless First Couple of the Ghent Altarpiece by Linda Seidel).

Today I’ll write a few words about Jean-Léon Gérôme. His painting “The Slave Market in Rome (Slave Auction)” was used as an illustration in my previous post. Jean-Léon Gérôme (Vésoul, Haute-Saône, May 11, 1824 – Paris, January 10, 1904) was a French painter and sculptor in the style now known as Academism. The range of his works included historical painting, Greek mythology, Orientalism, portraits and other subjects. Academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des beaux-arts.

The following painting is described as complex self-portrait being a summation of Gérôme’s remarkable career as both painter and sculptor. It is also a commemoration of his famous sculpture Tanagra (1890, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), a stately nude personification of the ancient Greek city.

Working in Marble, or The Artist Sculpting Tanagra by Jean-Léon  Gérôme (1890)

Working in Marble, or The Artist Sculpting Tanagra by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1890)

Below there’s a small selection of paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Painting studio (a “splendid room, with its great sculptures and paintings, some still unfinished, and a famous collection of barbaric arms and costumesaccording to a contemporary), oriental motives, imaginative representations of slave market seem constant subjects of his art.

The End of the Sitting by Jean-Léon Gérôme

The End of the Sitting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1886)

Bethsabée by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1889 or ca 1895 ?)

Bethsabée by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1889 or ca 1895 ?)

Selling Slaves in Rome by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1886)

Selling Slaves in Rome by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1886)

On this photo one can see the painter and sculptor with his model photographed on the occasion of Salon 1887.

Omphale statue presented at the Salon in 1887: Jean-Léon Gérôme  with his model

Omphale statue presented at the Salon in 1887: Jean-Léon Gérôme with his model

1. Jean-Léon Gérôme – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
2. Jean-Leon Gerome Online
3. Jean-Léon Gérôme – The complete works
4. History of Art: Neoclassicism and Romanticism – Jean-Leon Gerome
5. Historia del Arte Erótico: Jean-Léon Gérôme
6. Orientalist Art: Jean-Leon Gerome Paintings

I was not expecting that my first post would receive a warm welcome. Especially I didn’t expected to be mentioned in such a great blog as All Nudist. I would like to thank Angie & Steve, todaysnewsart, Rick and everybody who read my post.

I think, I should make a kind of statement 🙂

1. First of all I would like to apologize (yes, I cannot stop apologizing :-() for the maxim in my yesterday’s comment.  The thought of producing witty sentences never occurred to me before.

2. It is great that among first readers of the blog were the bloggers that don’t have problems with nudity. Although I’m not going to make an exclusively nudist blog, it might happen that some nude people (including myself) will appear here again.

I don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings. I’m asking individuals who either don’t want to see nudity in the blog, or don’t have legal rights to visit web resources containing nudity just to ignore my posts.

3. I remember the JBS (Danish men’s underwear company) advertising campaignMen don’t want to look at naked men‘ with pictures showing women in men’s underwear. I would like to say that I personally don’t want to look at women in men’s underwear as well. But what is more important, I don’t like the confusion of nudity with sex illustrated by this slogan.

4. I don’t understand why so many people confuse a photo of an individual with an individual himself.

One example. Many years ago I was impressed by the Francois Boucher‘s “Reclining Girl” (1752) in the Old Pinakothek in Munich.

Reclining Girl by Francois Boucher

Reclining Girl by Francois Boucher

It was interesting to me to discover that Miss Louise O’Murphy depicted in that portrait never served as a model. The picture arose, according to the art book, like all the others, from the artist’s own imagination.

Despite the fact that the photography is definitely closer to reality than painting, it is still incomparably far from it.