Friday, 12 June 2015

It Isn't Nudity; it's Art


Well, here we go in alphabetical order and if I've missed out your personal favourite... that's just to annoy you. 



A Dutch painter who generally depicted relaxed (through sleepy to comatose) young women in flowing dresses. Exquisite colours and technique but the poses get a little too sweet and contrived for me.


His best work is the imposing portrait of the Doge of Venice. His strangely chilling smile reaches you across time. Terrify your pets by pointing to it and saying to them, "Here is your new master."


A Renaissance painter of bizarre and highly populated pictures, often created so that rich patrons could relish views of the wickedness of modern man.


Beautiful long, very long, young girls with garlands. His most famous work is the Birth of Venus one of the earliest completely secular works. It tells the story of a fairly disgusting Greek myth.


If you like looking at chubby, nude, teenage girls draping themselves over beds and sofas then you've come to the right place. Please remember this is art and should be reverenced/revered as such.

Marie-Louise O'Murphy - now there's a name to go to bed with. And she did in regal company. She was a mistress of King Louis XV of France. A grateful King had Boucher paint her in the nude when she was 13. If that doesn't make you tut then nothing will.

Erotic features left aside these are wonderfully colourful paintings and the people in them look happy enough. I wonder whether those who thrill to Boucher's use of colour would like the paintings if they had antelope or trees as subjects. Hmmm.


The best figure painter in the history of Western painting with NO exceptions. Better even than more well-known artists such as Ingres and Michelangelo. When Monet was asked which painter would be remembered best from the 19th century, he answered 'Bouguereau.' It was never the case though as William Adolphe went out of fashion for a hundred years. In the 1950s and 1960s you could pick up his pictures for a song. Well, a few hundred dollars. They now sell at around $10-25 million a work. Still disliked by people who 'know art' but who should know better.


Witty and crowded crowd-scenes with lots of activities taking place. His pictures were meant to entertain and to bear hours of contemplation. Netherlandish Proverbs is a cheerful example.


A later member of the PRB who painted slender, graceful girls (flowing robes etc.) in mythological scenes and whose faces hardly vary from one girl to the next. The Mirror of Venus shows both his ability and limits in a single painting.


Long, panoramic townscapes with rectangular buildings with perfect perspective. You find these paintings only in museums and small tea-rooms in Suffolk. Very distinctive and completely unexciting.


A master of foreshortening. Photographic 'realism' except that Caravaggio subtlely distorts the 'photograph' to uncanny effect as in the Supper at Emmaus. (Where is your eye-level, at table-level or at that of a bystander?)


Young girls with the cutest noses in homely scenes. He also enjoyed painting the shiny insides of bowls and did it very well. You can't help but like his self-portraits, painted in his later years where he looks like 'Widow Twankey'.


One of the things that most surprise me is how many of Constable's paintings were rejected by the Royal Academy and its 'Hanging Committee'. This, apparently, was because landscapes were not a serious enough subject for painting. Constable enjoys the deserved reputation of being the pre-eminent landscape painter. His landscapes are idyllic and help to relax you in places like dentist waiting rooms. In the Post-Romantic age in which we live we all believe secretly or otherwise that life in the country is preferable to life in the town whatever the real case might be.


A court painter (usually a sign of great skill since monarchs tended to pick the best of who was available.) His nude paintings make you wonder whether he had ever seen a nude woman. They are anatomically freakish. Please remember that you and I make mistakes when painting. Great painters have their own distinct style of painting.


He idolized Napoleon as the hero who would sweep away despotism, and painted him in heroic/ caesar-like poses. Napoleon was/became despotic himself. David's paintings are technically marvellous and photographically realistic. Mme Recamier, (whose views opposed David's) was painted, bare-footed on a couch whose style came to be named after her and is a good and less militaristic example of his talent.


Ballet and horse-racing.


Most people are aware that he was a Mozartian person, convinced of his own ability. (It has to be said his depiction of a rabbit and still lifes show his graphical genius. However, they look strangely lifeless albeit perfectly drawn). A popular and wrong idea is that he saw himself as Christ so painted himself as Him. Dürer painted his own portrait and others pointed at the 'similarity'. There's quite a difference.


A master of rococo art like Boucher. If you look at the angle of the man's head in The Swing you'll see how much he liked prettily indecent art. The pictures of the girl playing with her pet dog in bed (La Gimblette is one example) are delightfully rude too.


And now for the really filthy bit of the site... What Gainsborough? Yes, the very same. He painted lots of high society ladies in the 18th century, an experience that earned him a living and which also used to turn him on sexually so prompting his visits to prostitutes in Ipswich. To one of his many lovers he signed himself off as 'Yours to the hilt, Thomas Gainsborough'. His genteel portraits of the ladies are unmistakeable and so finely done. For a lovely example of his work try the unfinished sketch of his daughters.


Tahiti. Bright colours.


An unusual painter in that he was rich and didn't need to look out for rich sponsors and he could paint what he pleased. His most famous work was 'The Raft of the Medusa' where he portrayed a national scandal where survivors of a shipwreck were abandoned and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. He built a model of the raft in his studio and draped corpses from the morgue all over it and painted them.


An early Renaissance figure, he is regarded by many as the father of the Renaissance. A cheerful man with a good sense of humour - nicely caught by Uccello he painted frescoes with more solid and recognisably human figures. To us, used to photographic detail, his figures look quaint and his depiction of anatomy decidedly dodgy. But there's much to look at here. Look at the faces of the two when Judas kisses Jesus. Decidedly modern expressions. Giotto had never seen a camel but he had heard of them. To cheer yourself up, look at his camels in The Adoration of the Magi.


The world turned dark in later years for Goya. His early paintings have a Renoir-like delight in colour and fun. As Goya came to believe in the hopeless horror of life, the paintings became more monochrome and terrible. The art of terror is displayed nowhere better than in El fusilamiento del 3 de mayo where the whitened eyes of the next victim never leave you once you've seen the painting.


Poor Grünewald wasn't called that. Someone making a catalogue in the 17th century made a mistake with his name. (His real name was Mathis Nithart.)


He painted the 'Laughing Cavalier.' Not laughing but giving an infectious smile, nonetheless.


Those Tudor portraits including the famous one of Anne of Cleves that misled Henry VIII.


Dutch, everyday interiors that give you the feeling you could walk into them and say a cheery 'hello' to the characters portrayed. His courtyard scenes are so down-to-earth (and clean, well-swept and wholesome) they have a fresh, painted last week feel.


A reknowned master of figure painting who is less able at this than his fame suggests. We are so used to the distortions of his umpteen nude paintings that we forgive him. His drawings show better his real talent for depicting the human form.

Frederick, Lord Leighton

Mostly graceful, beautiful girls in classical scenes, painted with an even greater technical skill than Alma-Tadema's. Flaming June is worth hunting down but it's tricky to find a reproduction where the orange truly flames (as it should).

Leonardo da Vinci

Try typing da Vinci into Google and you'll be overwhelmed by the number of sites eulogizing him as the complete man of the Renaissance. It all gets a bit tiring to read. I think if Leonardo were alive today he would be bored too with the adulation. His paintings are surprisingly few in number and his figures since he used a dark-green base have a yellow tinge to them and not the rich quality he intended. Some ferocious cleaning in the 16th century removed the Mona Lisa' s eyebrows and you might notice how the left and right skylines don't match up. A shame that. He was indifferent to women in general but not a misogynist like Michelangelo. When he painted The Last Supper he invented a technique of painting on dry plaster (this gave him more time to concentrate on details - wet plaster makes you rush) but the paint flakes off after time so the painting has deteriorated badly.


He always considered himself a scupltor (with sculpture a superior art) rather than a painter and his muscular, broad-backed figures bear this out. He was a deeply religious man who wished to depict the purity of the human form. He had an angry temperament and, famously, argued often with Pope Julius II who was paying for the decoration of the Sistine Chapel. What better way is there of decorating the First Church of the Catholic world than to paint lots and lots of nude figures on one of its ceilings? Interesting in itself is the fact that his nude men, the ignudi, are all beefcake types. It's also true that Michelangelo was homosexual. Perhaps his religiousness was practised along with a desire to paint nude men and both ideas happily work together with us as the beneficiaries. He hated women and you will have already noticed that the serpent in paradise has a female upper half. He also hated his rival, Leonardo da Vinci.


A member of the PRB, the group dedicated to returning to the purity of painting of former times and against the techniques of 'Sloshua Reynolds'. It was a noble idea and mostly didn't work. Spending a day painting a 2 cm. daisy didn't make it any more impressive to the eye at a distance, unfortunately. If you look close-up at the most lifelike dog in the whole of the world of art and that is the one in Las meninas by Velázquez you can see pretty heavy brushstrokes. Velázquez knew how it would look to his viewers. But, there are some wonderful paintings by Millais. His depiction of Ophelia is unsurpassed.


Clunky figures walking around a bleak French landscape in a kind of socialist realism style. His masterpiece is called in The Gleaners.


When people think of impressionists they tend to think first of Monet. As an aside, the biggest bores in the world are those who say 'I don't know much about art but I like the Impressionists.' If you like HUGE pictures of out-of-focus water lilies then Monet's your man. When you tire of these, try Monet's views of the Thames which are nicely atmospheric.


Perfect figure-painting with characters full of personality and human-looking. Not as acclaimed as he should be.


A gifted drawer who chose to distort the objects in his paintings. People who know nothing of Guernica have now convinced me that the painting has no meaning if you do not know WHAT it meant to represent. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is colourful and unusual, if daft.

Piero della Francesca

A mathematician who liked including geometry in his religious pictures. Stiff, static figures and he found painting objects in the middle distance difficult.


Smoothly graceful mythological scenes often with attractive women in various states of undress.


One of the great Florentines. His figures look smoother, less chunkier and more demure than Michelangelo's. He was a great fan of the latter and sneaked in for a look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on one of the great man's days off. (Michelangelo didn't like people looking at the work in progress). Raphael included Michelangelo dead centre, on the steps in his School of Athens. His portrayals of the Virgin (best example in the Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna) are the most delicate and graceful of any painters save those of Leonardo da Vinci.


He liked painting his own self-portrait and did this over and over again. The Anatomy Class of Dr Tulp is a good example of his chiaroscuoro style.


Colourful pictures of colourful happy people either enjoying life, drinking wine or smiling or all three. A must for any teenager's wall where he or she thinks life will be basically like this when he/she's grown up.


We invented the adjective 'Rubenesque' to mean ladies of Rubens's proportions. His nudes are never fat in a dumpy, unattractive way. They are large and voluptuous and look pretty active. Rubens loved women like this and at the age of 53 he married a 16 year-old, Helene Fourment, a cheerful, plump girl. They gave us one of the most lasting and happiest romantic relationships in the history of Art.


Photographs in our coloured daily newspapers are made up of thousands of coloured dots. Seurat made paintings in this way a hundred years before and in so doing invented another ism. This time pointillism. It doesn't really work though the subjects of the paintings are quite interesting. He painted the working classes taking time off by sitting quite bored on the banks of the River Seine in Bathing at Asnieres No money to do anything else. On the very opposite bank in La Grande Jatte the more well-to-do stroll about. (By the way, the girls fishing are prostitutes. Fishing here was a well-known 'disguise' for soliciting). Many famous painters died young. Seurat tragically was only 32 at his death.


Horses. (And a bit elongated at that).


Continued to paint religious frescoes a hundred years at least after most people had given up. A sort of Carry on Frescoes. He was the complete master of ceiling painting. (His oil work is also very good.)


Amongst other things, he painted biblical scenes populated by large nude ladies. Susanna as surprised by the Elders in one of his most famous works looks as if she had really decided to let herself go before they turned up.


The most famous of all the Venetian painters (they took to oil because the damp climate in Venice tended to make frescoes flake off the wall). Bacchus and Ariadne is worth looking at if only for the wonderfully stiff and unconvincing way Bacchus is jumping off the cart.


Ridiculed, even today, by lesser people as he was short. (Aren' t we doing well after one million year's of evolution?) Noted for his theatre posters for 19th century Paris, but do not miss his study of the seated girl dancer from behind in La Toilette.


A little bloke from London who lived at the same time as Keats, another little bloke from London. English art historians always stake our claim to our place at the top table in art because of Turner. Turner became obsessed with the effects of light and his paintings have light as their subject matter. The subject itself is an excuse to paint the light, lighting it, so to speak. 'The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her last Berth to be Broken Up' is a dramatic illustration of how good Turner was. The majestic man-of-war being towed off to the breakers yard with rigging and masts and all. (In reality all dismantled before the towing away took place). The little tug had its funnel shifted by Turner for more dramatic effect, too. It's called artistic licence. Turner was championed by Ruskin, the influential Victorian art critic and for whom Turner could do no wrong. Ruskin in a famous invented anecdote, could not consummate his marriage because his wife had pubic hair and the sight disgusted him. (By the way this story never happened and is pure invention.)


He was obsessed with the newly discovered art of perspective and rather over-used it. A good example of something obeying the rules of perspective but looking horribly wrong nevertheless is the foreshortened dead soldier in The Battle of San Romano.

Van Eyck

Well-known for 'inventing' oil paint (he didn't) and for The Arnolfini Marriage a painting you can look at for a long, long time, and still notice things you hadn't noticed before. This is wonderful art.

Van Gogh

In Europe known as Van Goff and in the USA as Van Go. The correct pronunciation is close to 'Fun Hoch" with a gutteral H and the ch bit like the Scottish "loch". I don't think Europeans intellectualize about him quite as much as Americans. Everyone's got a bit carried away here. Please remember his paintings look like painting by numbers from the standard but not the deluxe set - (the one with only bright colours available). His style is recognisable enough and one of the several versions of Sunflowers can always decorate that white wall in your flat.


Most people's idea of great art. And the people here are so right. See everything you can by Velázquez. The best works of many best works are The 'Rokeby' Venus, Las meninas, (so witty and original with its reflection idea) and Las hilanderas. A great fan of Titian.


A painter from Delft in the Netherlands. His reputation is founded on how well he painted the effects of light. (Very well) The Artist's Studio shows his technique perfectly. It was bought formerly by Hitler to hang in his mountain retreat in Austria. Girl with a Pearl Earring in its cleaned, restored form reminds you how beautiful paintings can be.


Wonderful, photographic images from a cousin of the Pre-Raphaelites. He drew and painted figures better than anyone save Bouguereau.


Rococo paintings to match the world of Mozart. Some nudes here but that's all right because this is Art. Gilles, the ungainly giant of a clown in his pierrot costume is a moving portrait of loneliness.

Wright Of Derby

Well-known for his brilliant, if theatrical, work 'An Experiment with an Air-pump' . The middle-classes idea of a fun evening in was to have a demonstration of science from a visiting scientist/entertainer. (The Dr Who figure in the painting). Apart from the brilliance of his painting technique each different reaction from the audience tells its bearer's personal story. Every portrayal in the painting is a small masterpiece in itself.

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