“There is no man on Earth who can give a final judgment on what the most beautiful shape of man might be” – Albrecht Dürer.
The study and depiction of the human body has always been an important topic in art history, from the primitive forms of Venus of Willendorf to the erotic ornamental paintings of Gustav Klimt. Francisco Goya began to erase the boundaries between realistic nudity and nudity as a form of artistic expression with his works “The Clothed Maja” and “The Nude Maja”. This idea was further developed in Impressionist works by Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Gustave Courbet. These works inspired the artists of subsequent centuries to carry out numerous experiments in the depiction of nudity.
Paul Cézanne, who is acknowledged as the founder of post-impressionism, used the term “couillard” to describe his works, referring to their provocative nature. They infused academic pieces with veiled traces of eroticism. Cézanne’s paintings presented the human body as a work of art and demonstrated the attractiveness of nudity in its natural form, challenging conventions and the generally accepted censure of nudity. “Nude art” soon parted ways with the veil of staged scenes and rapidly developed in noteworthy works of symbolism, expressionism, cubism and surrealism.
“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion” – Francis Bacon.
Depiction of nudity with elements of eroticism, often ahead of the traditions and norms of its time, has invariably encountered problems with the repression of sexuality. To this day, the apogee of realistic painting with an obvious sexual subtext remains Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (1866). Despite the rapid progress and expansion of the boundaries of what is permitted in visual art, many classic works of the twentieth-century were perceived by contemporaries as excessively sentimental, descriptive, and striving to idealize external sensuality.
Contemporary art, with its freedom to choose the method of representation, has focused on conceptual issues of the depiction of the human body. Modern conceptual painting and sculpture represent the human body as it is, not idealizing its image, but rather deliberately deforming, exaggerating and focusing on the imperfections inherent to real life. Against the backdrop of the rapid development of modern technologies, social networks, the media and options for self-expression, the human body is ceasing to be subject matter and is becoming the main tool for artists’ self-expression. Using various artistic techniques, from ironic allusion to grotesque, in painting, hyperrealism and photorealism, the artist becomes a sort of initiator of a discussion to express problematic societal issues and the phenomenon of the “naturally naked” person in the eyes of modern society.