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The Value of the Nude in Art

Author(s): Everett C. Maxwell

Source: Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1 (JANUARY 1911), pp. 2-11
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Accessed: 30-11-2017 21:15 UTC

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By Bougereau
From Moulton & Ricketts Galleries

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'THE ORANGE DRAPE" By Lillian Drain (Los Angeles)

The Value of the Nude in Art

By Everett C. Maxwell

T SEEMS strange that, in this day of ad- man opinion. It is upon this that the ar

I vanced thought and lofty ideals, it guments for and against the nude as the
should be necessary for educators and highest form of artistic expression, are
art publishers to discourse upon a based. The purist, so called (I reserve my
topic which, to all reasoning and high- right to skepticism), argues the question
minded individuals, is as obvious, as ac- thus : It cannot be denied that there are
cepted, and as fundamental as the multipli- savage tribes living to-day who have never
cation table. But, deplorable as it may known a covering of any sort upon their
seem, this class of enlightened people is bodies. Does it follow that the higher a peo
still in the minority. Whenever I am pie develop their civilization, the more elab
called upon to treat the time-worn subject, orate becomes their costume, and the more
the value of the nude in art, I always be- rigidly drawn their rules of conventions
gin by apologizing to artists as a class, and governing the relations of the sexes ?
to the cultivated in general. To even dis- This undeniable observation may be met
cuss this theme seems to me to be not only in several ways, the simplest of which is to
an affront to art, the noblest of all profes- point out the fact that our worthy purist
sions, but almost blasphemous toward God's is basing his argument upon a material
most perfect handiwork, man. basis, while the sponsor for art, from his
Humankind are strangely alike the world higher plane of understanding, bases his af
over, and the progress of their mental de- firmation upon an idealistic conception of
velopment, which is of course graduated by nature. The two factions may debate until
their spiritual and moral attitude, is a study the worlds lapse into nothingness. The
of never-ceasing interest. Environment is hiatus will at the end be so wide that noth
the one great factor in the shaping of hu- ing short of a new creation can hope to close

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Hi . WeM


the gap. Each has rights upon his side, and truly apart and beyond ethics that even the
each is convinced that his way of think- law of change cannot sway it from its orig
ing is the only sane one. The adjusting inal purpose. This purpose must remain a
of the difficulty is left to a mightier mind reflection cast by the immortal upon the
than ours ; for, while both the disputants soul of man, which he is permitted to give to
are made of clay, there were undoubtedly the world for the uplift of his less favored
several qualities, and more than one mould, brothers. Art is the one true thing that God
used discriminatingly by a wise Creator in and nature have entrusted to man to inter
the making. Each opinion is purely a men- prêt in a more or less unhampered way.
tal condition, and thus it is quite impossible Praxiteles struck the very keynote of its
to establish a common viewpoint. The mo- purpose, the divine intent, when he said, "I
rality of the races is governed largely by make man not as he is, but as he should be."
attitude of mind. I have seen just as Ruskin never uttered a greater truth than
heinous and vicious social crimes commit- was embodied in his simple declaration that
ted in conservative American villages as I art is merely an expression of nature. It
have ever met in my acquaintance with so- was never intended to be other than inter
called savage tribes. pretive, and in order to be so it must dis
However, a treatise on the value of the regard the outwardly perfect mass of f
nude figure to the purposes of pure art, and color, and paint that something
is not governed by a set code of morals, nor lies back of all nature, that silent m
can it use as its mediator the dogma of re- of truth and beauty which is so inaud
ligion, or the man-made standards which the cramped souls of earth who allo
meter modern society. Art is a thing so own egotism and unappreciation to

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them so completely that they give the lie to

every truth and never miss an opportunity
to revile nature.
Coming to the new west a dozen or more
years ago, from the very heart of eastern
art and educational activities, I was greatly
surprised to find that, among the many tal
ented men and women painters who had
been lured to this matchless southwest, not
one was devoting even passing attention to
figure painting. This I regretted, but ex
cused on the ground that they were in all
probability landscape specialists who had
come to this wonderland for the sole pur
pose of interpreting its natural beauty. I
found that in this I was mistaken, for many
of them were strong figure painters, trained
in the best foreign academies, several hav
ing wen honor in salons of note. They con
fessed their preference for figure work, and


By Alexander Balguiere

< fj
in answer to my question why they had
given it up for landscape, they explained
f that there was no demand in the west for
figure studies, and that it was almost im
possible to dispose of a nude. They gradu
ally became discouraged, and drifted into
landscape work, for which there was a
rapidly growing demand.
I pondered long upon their peculiar sit
uation, and vainly endeavored to induce ar
tists to paint at least one good figure study
each year for exhibition purposes. Some
did so, but their efforts were met with little
enthusiasm and often adverse criticism. The
first nude study I ever placed before a jury,
a jury that I had personally selected to as
sist me in choosing a representative col
lection of western art for a small public gal
lery, was immediately rejected on the
ground that nothing of the kind had ever
By Barrias
By Barrias Courtesy
Chicago been shown before in a public way. I over

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Background Greenhouse Garfield Park By LORADO TAFT —Courtesy Art Institute—Chicago

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ruled this absurd decision and hung the can

vas. This was several years ago, and the
wonderful development of art in this fa
vored section has completely defeated such
Many strong figure painters maintain
studios in or near the pueblos of Arizona
and New Mexico, and find ample opportu
nity for the expression of their art in poetic
renderings of Indian subjects. Excellent
nudes are thus painted from Indian models,
and are accepted and praised without re
serve when placed on exhibition. In what
way does the red man differ from his whiter
brother? Custom alone forms the basis for
comparison. Again, the materialistic is al
lowed to eclipse the idealistic, and the hu
man mind cannot comprehend that the em
bodiment of art is not a thing of organs
and muscles, but of spirit and truth.
While the fiercer storms of protest
against the public display of nude art have

"VENUS" Fitti Palace—Venice
Fitti Palace—Venice
By Canova
By Canova —Courtesy

at last assumed a calm exterior, with the

exception of a few fanatics who never tire
of obtruding their distorted opinions upon
their neighbors, the apparent acceptance of
the situation is far from genuine, and behind
the silent tongues there is a mental protest.
This can readily be deduced by a close ob
server in any gallery where a mixed col
lection of art works are shown. The nude
statue or painting is regarded by the ma
jority in austere silence, while they discuss
the charms of a near-by landscape canvas
with ease and freedom. What must be the
state of the inner being that prohibits the
analysis of the merits or demerits of a figure
canvas or forbids one to praise and admire
the modeling of a well-drawn limb or torso
with the same freedom of technical speech
with which a rock or tree is considered in
a landscape study?
"SNOWDROP" That the smoldering fire of protest
By Hasselberg Courtesy Art
Courtesy Art Institute,
Institute, Chicago Chicago against the USe of nude art for the purpose

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Background Greenhouse, Garfield Park, Chicago Courtesy Art Institute, Chicago

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of civic beautification can be readily fanned

into volcanic flame was recently demon
strated at Berkeley, when the magnificent
Sather gateway to the campus of the Uni
versity of California was unveiled. This
gateway, which is a creation of classic
beauty, is the work of the talented young
sculptor, Earl Cummings. Its columns are
decorated by panels in bas-relief depicting
eight undraped figures. A few weeks after
this work of art was unveiled, a lurid dis
cussion began to find space in the news
papers. One account, which claimed to be
official, declared that, in accordance with
public opinion, the regents of the university
had ordered the sculptor either to remove
his nude reliefs from the gateway or model
new ones fully draped to take their place.
This was almost unbelievable, and those of
us who were the most interested began an
investigation. I learned there had been a
furor of public criticism regarding the na
ture of the relief decorations ever since the
gateway was completed. The purpose of
the sculptor, which was to expound the 4
beauty of the perfectly developed human
form, seems on the part of some to be"DISCOBULUS"
com- "discobulus"
By Myron—A Greek sculptor of the fifth century
pletely misinterpreted and misunderstood. By My™-A Greek <^ür?e°y
Courtesy ArtChicago
Art Institute, iLutute^cîûcago
A few religious fanatics and several mis
guided co-eds have led this agitation, which yellow journalism is great, and it is to be
I found to be far less vigorous than the deplored that so much publicity should be
much exaggerated newspaper reports might given the opinions of a comparatively few
lead one to believe. prudish persons, whose objection to the
When the announcement was made that nude in art proclaims either an ignorant or
the regents of the university had ordered an unclean mind. Their thin disguis
the removal of the panels, I was delighted mock modesty, held up to the penetra
to find how quickly it aroused the ire and searchlight of truth, reveals a deform
indignation of all broad-minded art lovers, soul which would unhesitatingly seize upo
and how promptly they retaliated, and how the merest pretext in nature or in ar
much real feeling was manifest in what upbraid the Creator for His noblest ma
would have been a shame and disgrace. It piece.
was a relief to many loyal friends of art to Is it not significant of the divine intent
learn that these fictitious newspaper reports that the human form was the last t
were utterly untrue. The regents of the created—the climax of all the good an
university never for a single moment har- perfect works of the Almighty, fashione
bored a serious intention relative to the re- His own image, perfect in beauty an
moval of the Cummings panels. The daily nude, yet unashamed ? Does any reade
press has on many occasions cast like in- lieve for a moment that the divine pur
sinuations upon public-spirited individuals was for the ruin and degradation of
and institutions who have espoused the races? If it has been the misfortun
cause of nude art. The harm done by such some to misuse the power of mind to

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blocks; they never at

they cannot get past t
Considering the ques
the nude in art, as it
success or failure of a
will endeavor so to te
ism that the critical and over-fastidious will
not feel my statements to be mere flippan
cies. My purpose is only to lay before the
public a few conditions that have been com
mon studio property for many years. For
the highest expression of truth and beauty
in art, the use of the nude is absolutely in
dispensable, and the study of the naked
form is the chiefest requisite for the repre
sentation of human kind in paint or marble.
Man's most interesting study is man. He is
the only object in the universe which we
need not anthropomorphize in order to real
ize. His actions, his movements, are the
only things we comprehend directly without
effort. Hence there is nothing with which
we are familiar that possesses such artistic
possibilities as does his body. The human
figure has, since art began, formed the chief
object of the painter's and sculptor's inter
est, and so it will do to the end.
Perfect understanding of the anatomical
construction of the human body is the foun
dation of all art knowledge. It is not near
ly so well known as it should be that most
sculptors and painters first draw the figure
nude before arranging the drapery upon it.
This method is necessary to insure perfect
construction, which gives solidity, propor
tion and truth to the finished painting. As
painters care more for form and structure
By Powers than for color and effect, there is no rem
Courtesy Art Institute, Chicago
Courtesy Art institute, Chicago e(jy for j-his situation. When the pain
extent of limiting their comprehension of dispenses with this preliminary drawi
the beautiful, it is little less than a human in the case of portraiture, he must re
tragedy. It is possible for the unlettered the success of his painting on the
mind, first awakened to conditions beyond edge gained from long years of study
itself, to go blindly onward so encumbered the naked figure. No matter how elab
by the world's false conceptions and de- the robe, the trained eye of the art
based reasoning that, in its chaotic gropings only the form beneath. Were it not
for a higher plane, it rejects beauty, fearing study of the nude, the only art we
to trust that natural impulse which is to possess to-day would be the purel
accept and admire, thus barring itself com- rative and the purely landscape. N
pletely from the love feast of truth. These some would be content with these. Th
are the people who are their own stumbling no accounting for tastes.

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There exists, however, a much

reason why artists have devo
to the study of the nude. If id
graphically expressed, they m
carnated, and the human fig
medium for expressing these a
in art. If a great or a simple
expressed, such as Fear, Love, H
spair, the figure must be natu
nude. When Greek art introd
it is used only for ornamentat
for covering. Drapery may giv
dignity to the whole by contr
folds with the broader form
body. At the same time it is
artistic expression, and when it
the artist invariably suggests
lines of the body by its lines
The serious stude
has set and preser
for the entire pr
nude in art cannot be overrated. Neither
can it be appreciated, as we have brought
rudely home to us in the Sather gate com
edy. Surely, if art is the expression of
man's delight in the beauty of nature, its
highest and purest form is the expression of
his delight in what is highest and most beau

tiful in nature, the human form.

EDITOR'S NOTE.—Our frontispiece of

this number, "Cupid and Psyche at the Al
tar of Love," by Bourgereau, can but ex
cite the admiration of the most critical ;
even of those who love more some other
manner of treatment in Art. The drawing
is superb, and the flesh seems to palpitate,
to be fresh with the quickness of young life
Like all allegories, its meaning must be
construed by each one according to his im
agination. Psyche mourns and Cupid
weeps : but the gay red roses give a note oí
hopefulness and fresh life to the story.
That which most gives value to the picture
"Cupid on the alert" is its tender flesh painting. This picture

By Bougereau
By Bougereau
exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1899.
Moulton & Ricketts J J
Moulton & Rieketts

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