Pallant House Gallery is delighted to announce Drawing the Nude: From Manet to Auerbach, an exhibition in the De’Longhi Print Room which explores the representation of the human body in art, featuring works drawn from Pallant House Gallery’s permanent collection of Modern British art.

Beginning with classical idealism and moving to realist figure studies by Édouard Manet and Walter Sickert and later life drawings by Eric Gill, Michael Andrews, William Coldstream, Peter de Francia and Frank Auerbach, the exhibition will reveal how depictions of the body have changed through time.

In the late 1800s, Édouard Manet’s painting ‘Olympia’ shocked polite society when it was unveiled at the 1865 Paris Salon. The intense gaze of Victorine Meurent, the model, and details within the painting that identified her as a prostitute, created a painting that confronts the viewer with her nakedness. The reaction reveals the central conflict to public opinion on nudes: a goddess was seen as acceptable but a contemporary prostitute was not. An etched version of ‘Olympia’ published in defence of Manet’s art in 1868 features in the exhibition,  revealing the enduring power of the painting and its impact on proceeding generations of artists.

Since the Renaissance the discipline of drawing in Western art has been devoted to achieving a particular representation of the human body based upon the classical ideal. In the early 1900s artists began to break away from this academic convention and sought to capture the nuances of the living body.

British artist Walter Sickert, the subject of Pallant House Gallery’s major summer exhibition, was inspired by the Realism movement in France and

Image: Frank Auerbach, Nude Seated on a Folding Chair, 1954, Pallant House Gallery (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund)© The Artist, Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

took his subjects from everyday life. In the related etching and drawing for his painting ‘Jack Ashore’, (1912 – 13) Sickert explored the tense dynamic between a clothed male and a naked female, the composition encouraging a voyeuristic engagement. Rather than rooting the naked female figure in the academic ideal, Sickert based his image in the ‘gross material facts’ of life rather than the pliancy and suppleness of classical sculpture.

Despite the provocativeness of his works, Sickert did not completely abandon the traditional practices taught in British art schools; his drawings demonstrate a deep respect for draughtsmanship. Under the direction of Henry Slade in the early 1900s, pupils at the Slade School of Art followed a strict academic regime which involved copying plaster casts, as well as lessons in rendering contours and shading. This practice was continued by William Coldstream in 1947 when he became a professor at the Slade. Coldstream took this further in his own work, developing a technique of measuring distances between different points on the body and marking them on the canvas. This technique allowed him to create an objective image that depicted precisely what he was looking at. These lines are sometimes visible in his finished works, represented in the exhibition by his drawings of reclining and sleeping women.

Similar precision and clarity of line is evident elsewhere in the work of RB Kitaj, Keith Vaughan and Peter de Francia, whose particular interpretations of the human body were each supported by their strict adherence to drawing from life.

Perhaps more than any artist of his generation Frank Auerbach developed an expressive handling of the nude that was based upon a close physical understanding of his sitter obtained over many sittings. A series of etchings developed from life drawings, made as a student at the Slade, shows how this intimacy was achieved through the act of drawing itself. In each image a different position is adopted to produce contrasting shapes and contours. Taken out of the context of the life drawing class, the inventiveness of Auerbach’s drawing can be fully understood and the series represents an important development in the autonomy of drawing that has continued into the twenty-first century.

While the drawings of Manet, Sickert and Auerbach focused on the female form, later artists in the 20th century began to re-explore the male form which had also been central to the tenet of the classical ideal. Drawn two years after homosexuality was legalised in Britain in 1967, David Hockney’s Peter (1969) is a joyful celebration of Hockney’s relationship with his boyfriend and muse, Peter Schlesinger. It stands in contrast  to Keith Vaughan’s deeply personal sketches of full frontal male nudes - many of which were taken from his private sketchbooks and journal after his death - that reveal much about his personal struggles with his homosexuality.

Drawing the Nude: From Manet to Auerbach features over 20 works from the Gallery’s collection, further exploring the theme of the ‘figure’ which is explored in Leon Underwood: Figure and Rhythm. Underwood had a unique approach to life drawing which influenced artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, who he taught at his Brook Green School of Drawing in Hammersmith.

The exhibition in the De’Longhi Print Room is free to enter and runs from 20 May – 19 July 2015.


About Pallant House Gallery:

Pallant House Gallery is a unique combination of an historic Queen Anne townhouse and contemporary extension, housing one of the best collections of Modern British art in the country, including important works by Auerbach, Blake, Caulfield, Freud, Hodgkin, Nicholson, Paolozzi, Piper and Sutherland. Widely acclaimed for its innovative temporary exhibitions and exemplary Learning and Community Programme, the Gallery has won numerous awards since re–opening in 2006 including the Gulbenkian Prize (now The Art Fund Prize), the largest for arts and cultural organisations in the country.