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Drawing the Nude: From Manet to Auerbach

[ Exhibition )

Black and white etching by Manet depicting a nude white woman lying on a bed with a flower tucked in her hair. She gazes boldly out at the viewer while a black woman holds a bundle of decorated fabric. A black cat stands at the end of the bed.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1867, Etching and aquatint on paper, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government from the estate of MJ Long / Wilson and allocated to Pallant House Gallery, 2021) © Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK

How have artistic depictions of the human body shifted and changed over time?

The display traced the representation of the body in art from the classical ideal to realist figure studies by Édouard Manet and Walter Sickert and life drawings by Eric Gill, Michael Andrews, William Coldstream and Frank Auerbach.

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.

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.

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 a central 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 that reveal much about his personal struggles with his homosexuality.

The exhibition was held in the De’Longhi Print Room.

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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