Analysis Of Nudity In German Expressionism

1941 words - 8 pages

The visual representation of the human form has a history back to the cave paintings and beyond. As art developed through the Renaissance almost all painting followed convention – perspective of one point with nudes clearly from a one person view that is detached from the scene of the picture. The experimental work from the late 19th Century onward changed this perspective as the artists began to express introspection about the subject. Cubism and its representation of an object from all angles led German Expressionism to find the essence of subject from more than one approach. The French theoretician and critic Roger de Piles described ‘expression’ in 1708: “la pensée du cœur humain” – the thought of the human heart. He explained what the German painters 200 years on would embody. This essay attempts to contextualize the nakedness of the body in German Expressionism, through the analysis of three works and their influencing historical factors. The human form has been a key subject in art since the beginning of time, but the way in which the German Expressionists used it as part of a direct self-expression of form and colour; as part of a idealized notion of a society gone back to it’s roots; and finally as a reaction and outcome of the deeply dehumanising First World War shows the imbalance of spirit and physicality as reaction to societal changes. It will attempt to argue that the art of Germany in it’s most turbulent history expressed a whole truth about the human essence and how totally debilitating the effect of war can be on it.

The history of Western art is replete with the naked human body. The nude has been used to idealise, to romanticize and to philosophise about human existence since the Ancient Greeks. Plato’s ideal form was given life in sculptures and paintings throughout history from Michaelangelo and again in Neo-Classicism. Enlightenment philosophy lauded rationalism and perfection of form in art, and the Turkish Bath of Ingre can exemplify this. The ‘nude’ as opposed to naked in art history is unseeing, un-self conscious. Clearly a work like Manet’s Olympia is naked, as she confronts the viewer with her body. But the nudes of German Expressionism are more complex than this. Otto Mueller’s bodies in Three Women in the Forest (1911) are naked because they expose themselves as forms residing in the space of human psyche.

Kenneth Clark points out that the English language distinguishes between naked and nude: “To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes” and the word implies the embarrassment of this condition. Whereas the nude carries no uncomfortable overtone and refers to a “balanced, prosperous and confident body: the body reformed”. One only has to recall the platonic proportions of Michaelangelo’s David and Ingre’s Odalisque with Slave to see this ‘body reformed’. These figures are not residing in reality; they are too perfect. The nude in classical art is object: Ingres says, “Look at this beautiful woman.” while...

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