Aug 24, 2011

Art Snatch

The progressive concealment of the body that goes along with civilization keeps sexual curiosity awake. This curiosity seeks to complete the sexual object by revealing its hidden parts. It can however be diverted [“sublimated”] in the direction of art, if its interest can be shifted away from the genitals on to the shape of the body as a whole.  ~ Freud
In the scopic field everything is articulated between two terms that act in an antinomic way – on the side of things, there is the gaze, that is to say, things look at me, and yet I see them. ~ Lacan

 Francisco Goya  - La Maja Desnuda - circa 1797–1800

Representing pubic hair on women was taboo for centuries in Western art. While a number of paintings did reveal a bit of bush, Goya's painting (above) is considered one of the first depictions of pubic hair because he scandalously painted an actual woman rather than one cloaked by the subject of mythology. As a result, Goya was summoned to the Spanish Inquisition to expose his model and patron for the painting. One may wonder what all the fuss was about in our current porn-on-demand culture, but clearly hair below the belt was not appropriate for representation.

 Lucas Cranach the Elder - Venus and Cupid - 1508

Titian - Venus of Urbino - 1538

In Art/porn: a history of seeing and touching, Kelly Dennis points out that "the male "pubes" referred to the adolescent growth of pubic hair that traditionally signaled the coming of age of the public male: historically, the moment that initiates participation in citizenship, property ownership, and the legal control of women. By contrast, the female "pudendum" named that of which "one aught to be ashamed" and thus that which must be hidden and kept private."   

 Jean-Leon Gerome - Phryne Before the Areopagus - 1861

Édouard Manet - Olympia - 1863

Similar to Goya's painting, Manet's Olympia depicts a real woman who exposes herself without modesty and fixes her gaze onto the viewer. Despite her hand covering her beaver, Olympia was condemned as ‘immoral’ and ‘vulgar’ by its contemporaries. Baudelaire wrote to Manet regarding Olympia, stating "you are only the first in the decrepitude of your art." 

But Goya and Manet were still painting within a tradition of idealized nudes and odalisques. It would be Corbet who opened the door to the graphic representation and revelation of pubic hair and its power to shock with L’Origine du monde, 1866. The painting had been commissioned by a Turkish diplomat, Khalil Bey, for his own private viewing who, understanding the power of the image, hung the painting behind a green veil. When the diplomat went bankrupt, the painting was sold and went missing for a time. It was later discovered hanging in the country home of Jacques Lacan, also veiled, although this time by a sliding wooden panel constructed and decorated by the artist André Masson. However such covering, with its implicit revealing, is itself an erotic device.
Why does a man paint a fragment of a woman’s body? Why the vagina? Why does he repress her name? It is not easy to represent in painting a loved object; it produces anxiety. It seems likely that Courbet split her body, cropped it in order to represent her. Removing her name seals the objectification. Here is a psychotic moment. On the one hand there is beauty in the rendering of the flesh. On the other hand emotional intimacy is denied by the erasures. ~ Juan Davila - Courbet’s “The Origin of the World Renamed”
Gustave Courbet - L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) - 1866

While the Japanese woodblock prints imported to the West after the opening of Japan to trade in 1854 did not directly influence Courbet, it is known that Hokusai's work in particular was available and relevant to many of Courbet's contemporaries (James Tissot, Camile Pissaro, Monet, and Manet). Baudelaire wrote in a letter in 1861: "Quite a while ago I received a packet of japonneries. I've split them up among my friends.." The visible pubic hair in Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (along with the advent of photography) cannot be ignored as influencing a shift away from the hairless snatch.
 Hokusai - The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife - 1814

And so followed others...

Egon Schiele - 1910
 René Magritte - Le Viol - c. 1934

 Jenny Saville - Plan - 1993


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