The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Room Presents…
The week of the 13 – 17 October is an exciting time for the Prints and Drawings Room. For one week only the staff have selected five of our most striking works on paper featuring the nude for public viewing.
Between 1.30pm and 5pm our doors are open without an appointment with each work selected for one day only. Our friendly staff are eager to introduce their chosen works to the public and will be on hand to discuss them and answer questions.
Our Prints and Drawings Study Room Assistants introduce their selection…
Monday 13 October: Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings on Jacopo Tintoretto’s Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’ from 1550-55.
Jacopo Tintoretto explores the body in action in this drawing after Michelangelo’s lost model for a sculpture of Samson and the Philistines, originally designed as a pendant to his David. Although the sculpture was never realised, numerous small-scale copies of the model were produced in the 1550s and Tintoretto would have studied the group from such a model. Throughout his career Tintoretto was fascinated by Michelangelo’s representations of the heroic nude, making numerous studies of them.
Here the figures are shown from behind. Tintoretto explores the musculature of Samson’s twisting, tense body as he raises his arm to launch a blow on his foe. Tintoretto is particularly interested in capturing the position and form of the muscles and upper body of Samson, which he investigates in two further sketches on the sheet.
Tuesday 14 October: Camilla Pietrabissa on Peter Paul Rubens’ Female Nude from 1628-30.
There are few surviving drawings from the nude female model by Rubens. It may be that female models were uncommon in Rubens’s studio or that the artist’s wife, Helena Fourment, destroyed the drawings, as was the case with a number of his paintings.
In this large study, an opulent reclining female figure seems to emerge out of the bare paper. The draped garments or sheets behind the figure’s head, and the detail of the narrow lace band on her left arm, suggest the possibility of a study after life. Rubens was interested in the plasticity of the body, so he used a combination of red and white chalk as a means to render the different tones of the flesh and the light rippling on its surface.
The figure’s pose is strikingly similar to Ruben’s copy of a painting by Titian (The Bacchanal of the Andrians, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), and may thus be a reworking of another drawing or painting in preparation for Ruben’s masterful copy (Nationalmuseum är Sveriges, Stockholm).
Wednesday 15 October: Rachel Hapoienu on Georges Seurat’s Female Nude from 1879-81.
Life classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where Seurat was a student, focussed on the male form. As a result he produced relatively few studies of the female nude, of which this is a rare example. This sheet may have been produced at one of the city’s open studios, or perhaps from a session with a private model.
The drawing is defined by its heavy use of chiaroscuro, or deep shadows, composed through the vigorous web of crayon marks and his use of stumping (smudging the crayon) to produce an image of great atmosphere and drama. The stillness of the figure emerging from Seurat’s infinitely varied and rapid marks exudes an extraordinary sense of restrained energy and sensuality.
Thursday 16 October: Niccola Shearman on Oskar Kokoschka’s Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I) from 1961-62.
Oskar Kokoschka wrestled with depictions of the human figure throughout his career. This lithograph belongs to a series resulting from a trip to Greece in 1961.
The journey was evidently a form of pilgrimage for the artist, who believed that it was an insight into the ‘light of the human spirit’ which had led the ancient Greeks to create art from the human image. In retaining his humanist faith in the physical form, Kokoschka was unusual in the post-WWII art world, where a collective despair at the inhumanity of events led the deliberate pursuit of non-figurative abstraction amongst the majority of avant-garde painters.
Having developed a form of ‘blind drawing’ aimed at producing a dynamic image over painstaking linear accuracy, Kokoschka executed his drawings straight onto lithographic transfer paper for later printing in the studio. The resulting print preserves the gestural energy of the crayon in a manner that matches the vigour of the subject, particularly noticeable in the generous sweep of the figure’s robust arms.
Friday 17 October: Rosamund Garrett on Lucian Freud’s Reclining Figure from 1993.
Freud made a number of paintings and etchings of the larger than life character of Leigh Bowery, the performance artist and transvestite fashion designer notorious on the London club scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although he often relished depicting Bowery’s muscular and heavy-set physique, here Freud focuses on the quieter and more reflective side of the man, capturing him in the vulnerable intimacy of sleep.
Referring to his nudes as ‘naked portraits’, Freud chose unflattering poses that are natural in the way that individuals sleep or relax alone. His unusual vantage points and extreme foreshortening rebuke the tradition of the ideal nude. Working from life directly onto the etching plate, the artist’s frank scrutiny of his subject in blatant disregard of any persisting taboos about the body aims, in his own words, to ‘astonish, disturb, seduce, convince’.
Drop in to the Prints and Drawings Room on the mezzanine floor of the East Wing between 1.30 and 5pm from the 13 – 17 October for a thoroughly revealing exploration of the nude in art through the centuries!