Jake Liverman

When Ingres popularized the female nude in his masterpiece, The Valpinçon Bather (Fig. 1) (1808 Musée du Louvre), she is turned away from the viewer; we experience her presence, but in secret. His work in the female nude opened up artists to a different, gentler type of académie, the practice of an artist asserting his ability through the nude figure. But in this male-dominated field where the female nude’s use became widespread, it is hard to ignore some overt intentions of these male artists. Art, for many, is an expression of beautiful things—for the heterosexual male, there is little more beautiful than a woman, but for very different reasons than the beauty we find in a rose. When this tradition of the female nude was adopted and emulated (the process of an artist being influenced by an old master) it began to take a less innocent role. The repetition of the female nude form, especially in the work of late-Impressionist Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso, the subject has, in fact, become increasingly anti-woman. In Degas’ many brothel monotypes, such as The Fireside [hyperlink: figure 2] (Fig. 2) (1876, Metropolitan Museum of Art), and his series of women related to After the Bath: Woman with a Towel [hyperlink: figure 3] (Fig. 3) (1893, Fogg Art Museum), his misogyny and female objectification become quite clear. Picasso, a known chauvinist himself, adopts the female nude tradition and takes emulates Degas and other masters. Once this gets recognized, however, Picasso starts to resent those that came before him and emasculates Degas through his series entitled Degas among the prostitutes [hyperlink figure 4] (Fig. 4) (1971, Museu Picasso) and a direct commentary on Degas’ nudes in his etching/monotype Bather With a Bath Towel [hyperlink: figure 5] (Fig. 5) (1940, Fogg Art Museum). Is it even possible for a heterosexual male artist to portray a naked woman without voyeurism that is inextricable from anti-woman sentiment?


Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3.
Figure 4. Figure 5.
The Valpinçon Bather, Ingres, 1808, Musée de Louvre