Posts Tagged ‘Self-Portrait Kneeling


Exhibition: ‘Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 29th May 2017


Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
Silver gelatin print



This is the last posting for a while as my hand operation is tomorrow… so let’s make the most of the occasion!


“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.”

George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel, 1807. Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977), Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 10



This is an interesting pairing for an exhibition but the connection between the artists is unconvincing. This is because Wearing and Cahun are talking to different aspects of the self.

Wearing’s self-portraits, her mask-querades, her shielded multiple personalities, talk to a “postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self” in which there is little evidence of the existence of any “real” person. Wearing wears her identities in a series of dress-ups, performances where only the eyes of the original protagonist are visible. These identities evidence Jung’s shadow aspect, “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.” Rather than an assimilation of the shadow aspect into the self followed by an ascent (enantiodromia), Wearing’s images seem to be mired in a state of melancholia, a “confrontation with the shadow which produces at first a dead balance, a stand-still that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective… tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia.” This is not a confrontation that leads anywhere interesting, by looking the negative in the face and tarrying with it. These split personalities rise little above caricature, an imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are over emphasised, such as in Wearing’s portraits of her as Andy Warhol or Robert Mapplethorpe. To me, the photograph of Wearing as Mapplethorpe is a travesty of the pain that artist was feeling as he neared the end of his life, dying from HIV/AIDS.

Cahun’s self-portraits contain all the depth of feeling and emotion that Wearing’s can never contain. Here, identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Laura Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape [as Wearing is]. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary* these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

*Those with nonbinary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognised gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.*

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption** to the world.

**“The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” (Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.)**

Claude Cahun is person I would have really liked to have met. Affiliated with the French Surrealist movement, living with her partner the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris for the Isles of Scilly and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance.

“Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis’ crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier’s pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe’s [Marcel Moore] resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. In many ways, Cahun’s life’s work was focused on undermining a certain authority, however her specific resistance fighting targeted a physically dangerous threat. In 1944 she was arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out. However, Cahun’s health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954.” (Wikipedia)

Undermining a certain authority … while ennobling her own identity and being. Love and respect.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the blog entry “Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter” on the National Portrait Gallery Blog 09 May 2017.


This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.



“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Claude Cahun, 1930



 Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage



“Once seen, never forgotten: Cahun had a gift for the indelible image. Even when the signals are jammed, and the meaning deliberately baffled, her vision always holds strong. This is partly convenienced by the artist’s exceptional looks. Her long, thin face, with its shaved eyebrows, large eyes and linear nose, takes paint like a canvas. She converts herself into a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. In one self-portrait, she even holds her own bare face like a mask…

Peering into these monochrome images, so delicate and small, the viewer might inevitably wonder which is the real Cahun: the woman in the aviator goggles, the pensive Buddhist, the young man in a white silk scarf? But this is not the right question. She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself.

Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” …

There is little evidence that she ever displayed these photographs, which were forgotten for decades after her death. It seems that her partner was generally behind the lens, but we know almost nothing about how they were made. Of her lifelong project, Cahun wrote: “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Commentators have taken this to mean that she thought of herself as a series of multiple personalities, and the double exposures, shadows and reflections in her work all seem to undermine the idea of a singular self. Yet Cahun is formidably and unmistakably Cahun, her force of personality registering every time in that utterly penetrating look. Far from some postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self, her images are completely direct. They acknowledge the sufferings of a double life and are deepened by them every time; and yet they rejoice in that life too.”

Laura Cumming. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask – review,” on The Observer website Sunday 12 March 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021




Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask

This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.


Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore. 'Aveux non avenus frontispiece' 1929-30


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) in collaboration with Marcel Moore (French, 1892-1972)
Aveux non avenus frontispiece
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage



“Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair – as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves – the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor. Whereas the majority of Surrealists were men, in whose images women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed, multifaceted, and ultimately as having a nihilistic absence at the core.”

~ Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)' 1921-22


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)
Silver gelatin print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence


Claude Cahun. 'Studies for a keepsake' c. 1925


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Studies for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin prints
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet


Claude Cahun. 'Study for a keepsake' c. 1925


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Study for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin print
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet


Claude Cahun. 'I am in training don't kiss me' c. 1927


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
I am in training don’t kiss me
c. 1927
Silver gelatin print
117mm x 89mm (whole)
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage



Totor (progenitor of Tintin) and Popol are two comic characters by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Castor and Pollux are the twin stars; Pollux and Helen were the children of Zeus and Leda, while Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Leda and Tyndareus.


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)' c. 1928


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print
116mm x  83mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)' 1928


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)
Silver gelatin print
109 x 82mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Silver gelatin print


Claude Cahun. 'Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)' c. 1932


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (in cupboard)' c. 1932


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (in cupboard)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage



Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask (9 March – 29 May 2017) draws together over 100 works by French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing (b.1963). While they were born 70 years apart, they share similar themes of gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

Cahun, along with her contemporaries André Breton and Man Ray, was affiliated with the French Surrealist movement although her work was rarely exhibited during her lifetime. Together with her partner, the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance. In her photographs she is depicted wearing masks and costumes and engaging with Surrealist ideas. She also changes her appearance by shaving her hair and wearing wigs, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation.

Gillian Wearing studied at Goldsmiths University, winning the Turner Prize in 1997. She has exhibited extensively in the United Kingdom and internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, whilst overseas, recent retrospectives include IVAM Valencia and K20 Dusseldorf. Wearing’s photographic self-portraits incorporate painstaking recreations of her as others in an intriguing and sometimes unsettling range of guises such as where she becomes her immediate family members using prosthetic masks.

Despite their different backgrounds, obvious and remarkable parallels can be drawn between the artists whose fascination with identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade. Wearing has referenced Cahun overtly in the past: Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face is a reconstruction of Cahun’s self-portrait Don’t kiss me I’m in training of 1927, and forms the starting point of this exhibition, the title of which (Behind the mask, another mask) adapts a quotation from Claude Cahun’s Surrealist writings.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This inspired, timely and poignant exhibition pairs the works of Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. These pioneering artists, although separated by several decades, address similarly compelling themes around gender, identity, masquerade, performance and the idea of the self, issues that are ever more relevant to the present day.’

Sarah Howgate, Curator, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask, says: ‘It seems particularly fitting that at the National Portrait Gallery on International Women’s Day we are bringing together for the first time Claude Cahun’s intriguing and complex explorations of identity with the equally challenging and provocative self-images of Gillian Wearing.’

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask is curated by Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator of Contemporary Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait as a young girl
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait as a young girl
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)' 1920


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)
Silver gelatin print
115 x 89mm


Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Silver gelatin print


Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Silver gelatin print


Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/16 ins)
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Gelatin silver print


Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)' 1945


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)
Photograph – Courtesy of the artist



Ten things you need to know about this extraordinary artist

1. Her real name was Lucy Schwob.
She was born 25 October 1894 in Nantes, daughter of newspaper owner Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse; her uncle was the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Subjected to anti-Semitic acts following the Dreyfus Affair, she was removed to a boarding school in Surrey, where she studied for two years.

2. Cahun’s lover was also her stepsister.
In 1909, she met her lifelong partner and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe while studying in Nantes, in what she described as a ‘thunderbolt encounter’. Eight years later, Cahun’s father married Suzanne’s widowed mother.

3. The couple adopted gender-neutral names.
Schwob first used the name Claude Cahun in the semi-biographical text ‘Les Jeux uraniens’, Cahun being a surname from her father’s side. Malherbe changed her name to Marcel Moore and the pair moved to Paris in 1914, where they began their artistic collaborations and Cahun studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne.

4. Cahun was one of the few female Surrealists.
In 1932 she was introduced to André Breton, who called her ‘one of the most curious spirits of our time’. Four years later, Cahun participated in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, and visited the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Whereas in the works of male Surrealists women often appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s self-portraits explore female identity as constructed and multifaceted.

5. She was first and foremost a writer.
Now best known for her striking self-portraits, Cahun saw herself primarily as a writer. In 1930 she published Aveux non avenus (translated into English as Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions), an ‘anti-memoir’ including ten photomontages created in collaboration with Moore.

6. In 1937 the couple swapped Paris for Jersey.
Cahun and Moore moved to La Rocquaise, a house in St Brelade’s Bay, Jersey, where they led a secluded life. The couple reverted to their given names, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, and were known by the islanders as ‘les mesdames’.

7. They were actively involved in the resistance against Nazi Occupation.
When the Germans invaded Jersey in 1940 they decided to stay and produced counter-propaganda tracts. In July 1944 they were found out, arrested, stood trial, and were, briefly, sentenced to death (though these sentences were commuted). The couple were imprisoned in separate cells for almost a year before Liberation in May 1945.

8. In 1951 Cahun received the Medal of French Gratitude for her acts of resistance during the Second World War. Suffering increasingly from ill health, she died in 1954 at the age of sixty. Moore died eighteen years later, in 1972.

9. She remained forgotten for half a century
Following her move to Jersey, Cahun slipped from critical attention. After the death of Marcel Moore, much of Cahun’s work was put up for auction and acquired by collector John Wakeham, who then sold it to the Jersey Heritage Trust in 1995. The publication in 1992 of the definitive biography by Francois Leperlier, Claude Cahun: l’ecart et la metamorphose, and subsequent exhibition, Claude Cahun: Photographe, at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1995 encouraged a growing interest in the artist’s work. It was during this time that Gillian Wearing discovered Claude Cahun.

10. She was an artist ahead of her time
Wearing speaks of a ‘camaraderie’ between her and Cahun but she is not the only contemporary artist to have been influenced by her work. Cahun has a dedicated following among artists and art historians working from postmodern, feminist and queer theoretical perspectives; the American art critic Hal Foster described Cahun as ‘a Cindy Sherman avant la lettre’.


Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing' 2003


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing
Heather Podesta Collection
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Mapplethorpe
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar' 2010


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Diane Arbus' 2008-2010


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Diane Arbus
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face' 2012


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait of me now in a mask' 2011


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Self-portrait of me now in a mask
Collection of Mario Testino
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'Me as mask' 2013


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as mask
Private collection, courtesy Cecilia Dan Fine Art
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Gillian Wearing. 'At Claude Cahun's grave' 2015


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
At Claude Cahun’s grave
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London



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St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

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Exhibition: ‘Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the present day’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2013 – 2nd January 2014


Camille Félix Bellanger. 'Abel' 1874-75


Camille Félix Bellanger (French, 1853-1953)
Oil on canvas
110.5cm (43.5 in) x 215.4cm (84.8 in)
© Musée d’Orsay



The von Gloeden is stunning and some of the paintings are glorious: the muscularity / blood red colour in Falguière by Lutteurs d’Alexandre (1875, below); the beauty of Ángel Zárraga’s Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian) (1912, below); the sheer nakedness and earthiness of the Freud; and the colour, form and (homo)eroticism of The Bath by Paul Cadmus (1951, below), with their pert buttocks and hands washing suggestively.

But there is nothing too outrageous here. Heaven forbid!

After all, this is the male nude as curatorial commodity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




“The high brow peep show is divided thematically into depictions of religion, mythology, athleticism, homosexuality, and shifting notions of manliness. Wandering the Musee’s grand halls you will see rippling Greco-Roman Apollonian gods, Egon Schiele’s finely rendered, debauched self portraits and David LaChapelle’s 90s macho-kitsch celebs. Edward Munch’s hazy, pastel bathers mingle with Lucian Freud’s grossly erotic fleshy animals and reverent depictions of Christ and Saint Sebastian, showing the many ways to interpret a body sans outerwear.”

Priscilla Frank. “‘Masculine/Masculine’ Explores Male Nude Throughout Art History And We Couldn’t Be Happier (NSFW),” on the Huffpost Arts and Culture website, 26/09/2013 updated 07/12/2017 [Online] Cited 02/01/2021



Jean Delville (1867-1953) 'École de Platon' (School of Plato) 1898


Jean Delville (Belgium, 1867-1953)
École de Platon (School of Plato)
Oil on canvas
H. 260; W. 605cm
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski



In the late 19th century, Belgium was one of the great centres of European symbolism. Jean Delville’s paintings and writings expressed the most esoteric side of the movement. In the mid-1880s, Delville’s discovery of the symbolist milieu in Paris and the friendships he made there led him to break with the naturalism inherited from his academic training. Thus his friendship with the Sâr Péladan and his regular attendance at the Salon of the Rose+Croix, testified to his belief in an intellectual art which focused on evocation more than description.

School of Plato, a decoration intended for the Sorbonne but never installed there, is a striking work in many respects. Its monumental size and its ambitious message – an interpretation of classical philosophy seen through the prism of the symbolist ideal – set it apart. The manifesto makes no secret of its references, from Raphael to Puvis de Chavannes, but envelops them in the strange charm of a deliberately unreal colour range. The ambiguity emanating from this fin de siècle Mannerism knowingly blurs the borderline between purity and sensuality.


Jules Elie Delaunay. 'Ixion Thrown Into the Flames' 1876


Jules-Élie Delaunay (French, 1828-1891)
Ixion Thrown Into the Flames
© RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot


Eadweard Muybridge. 'Motion Study (Men wrestling)' 1887


Eadweard Muybridge (British, 1830-1904)
Motion Study (Men wrestling)
Plate 332 from Animal Locomotion
Collotype plate 1872-1885
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Alexis Brandt


Kehinde Wiley. 'Death of Abel Study' 2008


Kehinde Wiley (American, b. 1977)
Death of Abel Study
© Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA & Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris


Paul Cézanne. 'Baigneurs' (Bathers) 1890


Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906)
Baigneurs (Bathers)
Oil on canvas
60.0 (h) x 82.0 (w) cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Gift of Baroness Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud 1965
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski



In this work the arrangement of the bathers is brilliantly orchestrated – a complex grouping of foregrounded figures is contrapuntally arranged against another group occupying the middle ground. There is a strong classical echo to the triangular, pedimental architecture of these four foregrounded figures, anchoring the work compositionally. The effect is to create an architecturally interlocking circle of figures surrounding a group of bathers in the water or sitting on the banks. The corporeal presence of the foregrounded figures and the luminosity of their skin tones are echoed in the volumetric forms of the cumulus clouds that loom in the background. We see Cézanne’s technical confidence in the way the terrain has been flattened and the treescape simplified. He uses trees here not for their anecdotal fidelity, but to anchor the composition at key points.

There is an undeniable sense of ritual in this work. Some commentators interpret the scene as baptismal – Cézanne became a devout catholic in 1890 – with the figure at left pouring water over the head of a partially submerged bather to his right. But it is also clear here that Cézanne mixes the sacred with the profane. There is a celebratory, Arcadian purity which finds its mirror in the compositional structure as a whole, whether it be the way in which light reflects off the facets of the bodies or in which it is refracted off the looming cloud masses. A paganistic, sensual exuberance informs the way in which the figures circle the bathers in the water, which Henri Matisse’s famous The dance 1910 will later recall. (Matisse was a great admirer of Cézanne’s work and owned a number of his paintings.) And it is probably no coincidence that the ‘attendant’ holds a luminous, vulva-shaped towel at the very centre of the composition. Grammatically, the title Baigneurs does not preclude the possibility that some of the participants may be female – the seated figure who is, significantly, adjacent to the towel, appears to be clearly female, for example. Bathers, then, is redolent with meaning. This is a powerfully multivalent work, and along with the later The large bathers paintings of 1894-1905 and 1900–05, is considered to be one of Cézanne’s great masterpieces.

Mark Henshaw

Text from the National Gallery of Canberra website [Online] Cited 02/01/2021


Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Les adolescents' (Teenagers) 1906


Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Les adolescents (Teenagers)
Oil on canvas
157 x 117cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée de l’Orangerie) / Hervé Lewandowski © Succession Picasso 2015



This red/pink monochrome that characterises The Adolescents first appeared after Picasso’s visit to Gosol with his partner Fernande. The earth in this village in the Catalan Pyrenees was done in an unusual ochre colour that Picasso included in his “Rose Period” (1904-1906). Two nude figures, outlined and modelled on a monochrome background, give the image a sculptural and classical character. The poses are hieratic: the young man crosses his arms above his head, while the young woman, or androgynous adolescent, balances a pitcher on her head in a timeless pose. Jean Cassou highlighted the Mediterranean character of this brief phase in Picasso’s art, and its relationship with the art of Maillol (1861-1944). Undulating lines can be made out below the legs of the two figures. This in fact is the sketch from another composition intended to be in horizontal format, but which the artist chose to erase. Paul Guillaume bought this beautiful painting in 1930. It came from the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939). The “pink classicism” of this painting seems to anticipate the period after 1906 of the “return to order”, which characterised Picasso’s work in the 1920s, and which corresponds with other paintings in the Orangerie like the large Bathers of the 1920s.

Provenance: Ambroise Vollard, Paris; Paul Guillaume (1930); Domenica Walter

Text from the Musée de l’Orangerie website [Online] Cited 08/01/2021


Auguste Rodin. 'The Age of Bronze' 1875-76


Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
The Age of Bronze
H. 180.5cm ; W. 68.5cm ; D. 54.5cm



Made in Brussels, this figure, one of Rodin’s most famous works, attests to the sculptor’s masterly skill and his attention to living nature that informs the pose and the modelling.A young Belgian soldier, Auguste Ney,was the model for this statue devoid of any element that would shed light on the subject’s identity. The untitled work was exhibited at the Cercle Artistique, Brussels, in 1877, then, entitled The Age of Bronze, at the Salon in Paris, where it caused a scandal.

Also known as The Awakening Man or The Vanquished One, the statue recalls one of the early ages of mankind. There was originally a spear in the left hand, as is shown in a photograph by Gaudenzio Marconi, but Rodin decided to suppress the weapon so as to free the arm of any attribute and infuse the gesture with a new liberality.

Accused of having used a life cast of his sitter, when the statue was shown in Paris, Rodin had to prove that the quality of his sculpture’s modelling came from a thorough study of profiles, not from a life cast. His critics eventually recognised that the sculptor was innocent of any trickery. The scandal, however, did draw attention to Rodin and earned him the commission for The Gates of Hell in 1880.

Text from the Musée Rodin website [Online] Cited 08/01/2020



While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment. It is highly significant that until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in the autumn of 2012, no exhibition had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude. However, male nudity was for a long time, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the basis of traditional Academic art training and a key element in Western creative art. Therefore when presenting the exhibition Masculine / Masculine, the Musée d’Orsay, drawing on the wealth of its own collections (with several hitherto unknown sculptures) and on other French public collections, aims to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to exploring all aspects and meanings of the male nude in art. Given that the 19th century took its inspiration from 18th century classical art, and that this influence still resonates today, the Musée d’Orsay is extending its traditional historical range in order to draw a continuous arc of creation through two centuries down to the present day. The exhibition will include the whole range of techniques: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and, of course, photography, which will have an equal place in the exhibition.

To convey the specifically masculine nature of the body, the exhibition, in preference to a dull chronological presentation, takes the visitor on a journey through a succession of thematic focuses, including the aesthetic canons inherited from Antiquity, their reinterpretation in the Neo-Classical, Symbolist and contemporary eras where the hero is increasingly glorified, the Realist fascination for truthful representation of the body, nudity as the body’s natural state, the suffering of the body and the expression of pain, and finally its eroticisation. The aim is to establish a genuine dialogue between different eras in order to reveal how certain artists have been prompted to reinterpret earlier works. In the mid 18th century, Winckelmann examined the legacy of the divine proporzioni of the body inherited from Antiquity, which, in spite of radical challenges, still apply today having mysteriously come down through the history of art as the accepted definition of beauty. From Jacques-Louis David to George Platt-Lynes, LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles, and including Gustave Moreau, a whole series of connections is revealed, based around issues of power, censorship, modesty, the boundaries of public expectation and changes in social mores.

Winckelmann’s glorification of Greek beauty reveals an implicit carnal desire, relating to men as well as women, which certainly comes down through two centuries from the “Barbus” group and from David’s studio, to David Hockney and the film director James Bidgood. This sensibility also permeates the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as it questions its own identity, as we see in the extraordinary painting École de Platon [School of Plato], inexplicably purchased by the French state in 1912 from the Belgian artist Delville. Similarly, the exhibition will reveal other visual and intellectual relationships through the works of artists as renowned as Georges de La Tour, Pierre Puget, Abilgaard, Paul Flandrin, Bouguereau, Hodler, Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bacon, Mapplethorpe, Freud and Mueck, while lining up some surprises like the Mexican Angel Zarraga’s Saint Sébastien (Saint Sebastian), De Chirico’s Les Bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths) and the erotica of Americans Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus.

This autumn therefore, the Musée d’Orsay will invite the visitor to an exhibition that challenges the continuity of a theme that has always interested artists, through unexpected yet productive confrontations between the various revivals of the nude man in art.”

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website


Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) 'Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu' 1778


Jacques Louis David (French, 1748-1825)
Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu
Oil on canvas
H. 122; W. 170cm
Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry
© Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry



Masculine / Masculine

Why had there never been an exhibition dedicated to the male nude until Nackte Männer at the Leopold Museum in Vienna last year? In order to answer this question, the exhibition sets out to compare works of different eras and techniques, around great themes that have shaped the image of the male body for over two centuries.

We must distinguish above all between nudity and the nude: a body simply without clothes, that causes embarrassment with its lack of modesty, is different from the radiant vision of a body restructured and idealised by the artist. Although this distinction can be qualified, it highlights the positive, uninhibited approach to the nude in western art since the Classical Period.

Today, the nude essentially brings to mind a female body, the legacy of a 19th century that established it as an absolute and as the accepted object of male desire. Prior to this, however, the female body was regarded less favourably than its more structured, more muscular male counterpart. Since the Renaissance, the male nude had been accorded more importance: the man as a universal being became a synonym for Mankind, and his body was established as the ideal human form, as was already the case in Greco-Roman art. Examples of this interpretation abound in the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage: Adam existed before Eve, who was no more than his copy and the origin of sin. Most artists being male, they found an “ideal me” in the male nude, a magnified, narcissistic reflection of themselves. And yet, until the middle of the 20th century, the sexual organ was the source of a certain embarrassment, whether shrunken or well hidden beneath strategically placed drapery, thong or scabbard.


Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813) 'Le Berger Pâris' (The Shepherd, Paris) 1787


Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (French, 1756-1813)
Le Berger Pâris (The Shepherd, Paris)
Oil on canvas
H. 177 ; L. 118cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa
© Photo: MBAC



The Classic Ideal

From the 17th century, training of the highest standard was organised for the most privileged artists. In sculpture and in history painting, the ultimate aim of this teaching was to master the representation of the male nude: this was central to the creative process, as the preparatory studies had to capture the articulation of the body as closely as possible, whether clothed or not, in the finished composition.

In France, pupils studied at the Académie Royale then at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, working from drawings, engravings, sculptures “in the round” and life models. Right up until the late 20th century, these models were exclusively male, for reasons of social morality, but also because the man was considered to have the archetypal human form. In order to be noble and worthy of artistic representation, and to appeal to all, this could not be the body of an ordinary man: the distinctive features of the model had to be tempered in order to elevate the subject.

Above all, the artists of Antiquity and of the Renaissance were considered to have established an ideal synthesis of the human body without being distracted by individual characteristics. For Winckelmann, the German 18th century aesthete, the ideal beauty of Greek statues could only be embodied by the male nude. But although it inspired numerous artists, the “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” of Winckelmann’s gods was undermined by other interpretations of Classical art: the torment of Laocoon, a work from late Antiquity, can be seen in the work of the Danish painter Abildgaard, while David advocated a much more Roman masculinity. Even when challenged, reinterpreted and renewed by the 20th century avant-garde, the Classical male nude and its rich legacy remains an object of fascination right up to the inter-war years and up to the present day.


George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) 'Horst P. Horst, Photographie' 1932


George Hoyningen-Huene (American, born Russia 1900-1968)
Horst P. Horst, Photographie
Tirage argentique
H. 19 x L. 22.7cm
Hambourg, FC Gundlach
© Droits réservés



The Heroic Nude

The concept and the word “hero” itself come from ancient Greece: whether a demigod or simply a mortal transcending his human condition to become an exemplum virtutis, he embodies an ideal. The admiration for Classical art and culture explains the ubiquity of the hero in Academic painting, particularly in subjects given to candidates of the Prix de Rome: great history painting thrived on the exploits of supermen in the most perfect bodies.

This connection between anatomy and heroic virtue, conveying noble and universal values, goes back to the Neo-Platonic concept linking beauty and goodness. The hero’s nudity has been so self-evident that the “heroic nude” has become the subject of a recurrent debate about the representation of great men, past or present, no matter how incongruous the result may appear.

Heroism is not a state, rather a means by which the strength of character of an exceptional being man is revealed: although Hercules’ strength is inseparable from his exploits, it was David’s cunning that overcame the powerful Goliath. In both cases they are endowed with a warrior’s strength, which was particularly valued by a 19th century thirsting for virility and patriotic assertion: more than ever, this was the ideal to be attained. We had to wait for the 20th century crisis of masculinity before we could see the renewal of the status of the increasingly contemporary hero, and the diversification of his physical characteristics. However, whether a star or a designer like Yves Saint-Laurent, or even the young men on the streets of Harlem painted by the American Kehinde Wiley, the evocative power of nudity remains.


Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Vive la France' 2006


Pierre et Gilles (Pierre Commoy, b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Vive la France
(models: Serge, Moussa and Robert)
Painted photograph, unique piece
H. 125 x W. 101cm
© Pierre et Gilles



The Gods of the Stadium

The 20th century witnessed the start of a new way of looking at the human body where the focus was on medical aspects and hygiene, and this had a considerable impact on the concept of the artistic nude. Numerous physical education movements and gymnasia appeared. People were captivated by the figure of the “sportsman” and, as in the work of the painter Eugene Jansson, came to admire and covet the virile power of his body in action. This concept is realised in culturalism, the narcissistic admiration of a body that has become an object to be fashioned like an artwork in its own right. Modern man with his athletic morphology has become a new potential ideal: he embodies a beauty that invites comparison with Greco-Roman art.

Linked with the affirmation of national identity, the athlete has come to personify the brute force of the nation and an ability to defend the country in times of war. During the 1930s in the United States, the image of the athlete evolved in a distinctive way, highlighting the ordinary man as a mixture of physical strength and bravery. Totalitarian regimes, however, perverted the cult of the athlete in order to promote their own ideology: Germany linked it in a demiurgic way with the made-up concept of the “Aryan” race, while Mussolini’s government erected marble idols on the Stadio dei Marmi.


Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866) 'Orlando Furioso' 1867


Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (French, 1808-1866)
Orlando Furioso
Cast in bronze
H. 130; W. 146; D. 90cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier



It’s tough being a Hero

As he moves outside the established order, the mythological hero risks the anger of the gods and the jealousy of men. Although his passions, his moral shortcomings and occasionally his frailties stem from his human condition, he is happy to possess the perfect form of the gods: thus the artist and the spectator find expression of a perfect self. The great dramatic destinies thus give character to the compositions, and enable them to interpret a whole range of emotions from determination to despair, from hostility to eternal rest.

Although it is a platitude to say that feelings are expressed most accurately in the face – from the theorised and institutional drawings of Charles Le Brun to the “tête d’expression” competition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts – one must not underestimate the key role of the body and the anatomy as vehicles for expressing emotion: certain formal choices even led to generally accepted conventions.

Mythology and the Homeric epic abound with stories of the ill-fated destinies and destructive passions of heroes, whose nudity is justified by its origins in ancient Greece: Joseph-Désiré Court displays the broken body of the ill-fated Hippolytus, a premonition of the transposition in the ancient world of Mort pour la patrie [Dying for The Fatherland] of Lecomte du Nouÿ.


Nude Veritas

The Realist aesthetic, which came to the fore in western art during the 19th century, had a dramatic effect on the representation of male nudity. The human body, represented as nature intended, was no longer seen from the decorous distance that characterised the idealised image of the nude, a goal to be achieved through Academic drawing exercises. In this context, where revealing the body was an affront to modesty – in the male-dominated society of the 19th century, the unclothed male appeared even more obscene and shocking than the unclothed female – the male nude gradually became less common as female figures proliferated.

This reversal did not mean, however, that naked men disappeared altogether: scientific study of the male nude, aided by new techniques such as the decomposition of movement through a series of photographs taken in rapid succession – chronophotography – brought advances in the study of anatomy and transformed the teaching of art students. From then on, it was less a case, for the most avant-garde artists, of striving to reproduce a canon of beauty inherited from the past, than of representing a body that retained the harmony of the model’s true characteristics.

The evocative power of the nude inspired artists like the Austrian Schiele to produce nude self portraits that revealed the existential torments of the artist. Invested at times with a Christ-like dimension, these depictions, moving beyond realism into introspection, continued to be produced right up to the 21st century, especially in photography.


William Bouguereau (1825-1905) 'Equality before Death' 1848


William Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
Equality before Death
Oil on Canvas
H. 141; W. 269cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt



Without compromise

The fascination for reality established in artistic circles in the mid 19th century prompted a thorough renewal of religious painting. Although resorting to the classical idealisation of the body seemed to be consistent with religious dogma, artists like Bonnat breathed fresh life into the genre by depicting the harsh truth of the physical condition of biblical figures.

This principle was already at work in Egalité devant la mort [Equality before Death], by Bouguereau, who, in his early work, in the final days of Romanticism, exploited the power of the image of an ordinary corpse. Rodin, far from enhancing the appearance of the novelist that he was invited to celebrate, sought to render Balzac’s corpulent physique with implacable accuracy, without diminishing his grandeur in any way.

The question is thus raised of art’s relationship to reality, a question Ron Mueck tackles in his work. And the strange effect brought about by a change of scale gives an intensity to the dead body of his father that echoes the dead figure in Bouguereau’s painting.


Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) 'Fisherman with a Net' 1868


Frédéric Bazille (French, 1841-1870)
Fisherman with a Net
Oil on canvas
H. 134; W. 83cm
Zurich, Rau Foundation for the Third World
© Lylho / Leemage


Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864) 'Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study' 1836


Hippolyte Flandrin (French, 1809-1864)
Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study
Oil on canvas
H. 98; W. 124cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier




Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Cain, Taormine, Sicile
© Westlicht, Musée de la Photographie, Vienna



In Nature

Including the naked body in a landscape was not a new challenge for 19th century artists. In many aspects, this was recurrent in large-scale history painting, and a demanding artistic exercise by which a painter’s technical mastery was judged. It was about making the relationship between the naked body and its setting as accurate as possible in terms of proportion, depth and light. Although Bazille’s Pêcheur à l’épervier [Fisherman with a Net] is one of the most successful attempts – in a contemporary context – at depicting a naked man in an atmospheric light that the Impressionists later took for their own, he nevertheless observed the principles of academic construction.

Masculine nudity in nature took another meaning as society was transformed through technical advances and urbanisation. Man was now seeking a communion with nature, that could reconcile him with the excesses and the sense of dislocation created by the modern world, while still conforming to the theories of good health advocating physical exercise and fresh air.


In pain

In allowing themselves to deviate from the classical norms, artists opened up new possibilities for a more expressive representation of a body in the throes of torment or pain. The decline of the Academic nude and of classical restraint explains this predilection for ordeals: Ixion’s for example, condemned by Zeus to be bound to an eternally spinning wheel of fire.

The writhing body can also express torment of a more psychological nature. The pain experienced by the male body naturally relates to the issues of power between men and women in contemporary society: the naked body can be demeaning and, in certain circumstances, likely to call into question virility and male domination. In this respect, Louise Bourgeois’ choice of a male figure for her Arch of Hysteria was not a random one.

The martyr can, nevertheless, inspire compositions other than the tortured body: the death of Abel, killed by his brother Cain in the Book of Genesis, seems, on the contrary, to have inspired the pose of a totally relaxed body at the point of death. This abandon, however, conveyed a certain ambivalence that artists were determined to exploit: the body, often magnified and in state of morbid ecstasy, was in fact there for the spectator to relish. In these cases, suffering was merely a device to justify fetishising the body once again. In contrast with this seductive treatment, photographers engaged in experiments to divide the body into individual parts, in an aesthetic or even playful approach.


François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) 'The Dying Saint Sebastian' 1789


François-Xavier Fabre (French, 1766-1837)
The Dying Saint Sebastian
Oil on canvas
H. 196; W. 147cm
Montpellier, Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération – cliché Frédéric Jaulmes




Ángel Zárraga (Mexican, 1886-1946)
Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian)
Oil on canvas
© Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico



The Glorious body

Judeo-Christian culture has undeniably influenced the representation of the naked man since the beginning of modern art. However, the Catholic concept of the body has been at variance with nudity since Paleochristian times: the body is merely the corporeal envelope from which the soul is freed on death. Influenced by theologians advocating the union of the sensory and the spiritual, nudity gradually became accepted for important figures such as Christ and Saint Sebastian. Their martyred bodies, transcended by suffering endured through faith, paradoxically allowed the human soul to come close to God.

For the Catholic church, the vulnerability of Christ’s body, subjected to suffering and bearing the stigmata, is evidence of his humanity, while his divinity is revealed in his inspired expression and his idealised body, a legacy of the underlying classical models. The figure of Saint Sebastian is especially complex: this popular saint, the epitome of the martyr who survives his first ordeal, embodies the victory of life over death. This life force is no doubt related to his youthful beauty and his naked body, both of which made their appearance in the 17th century. This being the case, his representation gradually moves away from Catholic dogma, and acquires an unprecedented freedom and life of its own: his sensuality is more and more obvious, whereas his suffering is at times impossible to detect. In this quest for sensual pleasure, and until the 20th century, the only taboo was to reveal the penis.


Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) 'The Bath' 1951


Paul Cadmus (American, 1904-1999)
The Bath
Tempera on card
H. 36.4; W. 41.4cm
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art
Anonymous gift
© Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – Art
© Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus / ADAGP, Paris 2013




Boris Ignatovitch (Russian, 1899-1976)
Douche (Shower)
Silver gelatin photograph



In Shower, a group of young athletes enjoys a therapeutic water massage; in the foreground is the back of a young man, whose stately figure takes up almost the entire frame. The masterful light and airiness of the image have a stunning aesthetic effect, illuminating the drops of water that are sprinkled across the spine and muscles of his tanned back. Aleksandr Deineka (1899-1969) was so captivated by the powerful composition of Shower that he recreated the scene in his painting After the Battle (1937-1942, below).

Text from the Nailya Alexander Gallery website [Online] Cited 10/01/2021


Aleksandr Deyneka (Russian, 1899-1969) 'After the Battle' 1937-1942


Aleksandr Deyneka (Russian, 1899-1969)
After the Battle
Oil on canvas
Kursk State Art Gallery



This painting was inspired by a photograph by legendary Soviet photographer Boris Ignatovich that he had presented to Deyneka (above). The artist thought the composition with an athlete in the foreground was perfection itself. However, he had difficulty transferring it to the canvas, and the painting took five years to complete. Deyneka finished it at the height of World War II, which is why the athletes in the title had turned into soldiers.

Anonymous text from the Russia Beyond website December 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2021


“This male homoeroticism maintains close ties with the revolutionary project to destroy the family and traditional marriage and the construction of new types of social relations based on collective values ​​above all, with the idea that the bonds of friendship and camaraderie between men (homosociality, “male bonding”) are equally or more important than heterosexual bonding. It is mainly in the period from the Revolution to the 1930s the values ​​of friendship and camaraderie seem particularly highlighted the detriment of the bonds of love, very devalued as “petty-bourgeois”, but even more later, with the Stalinist project of “restoration” of the family, it can be assumed that the emotional and romantic in the heterosexual couple have never been a pervasive and rewarding cultural representation of magnitude of that which may be known in the West. [11] The researcher Lilya Kaganovsky, analysing the Soviet visual culture (especially cult films of the 1930s and 1940s), speaks of “heterosexual panic” in response to the concept of “homosexual panic” coined by Eve K. Segdwick: according Kaganovsky, Soviet cultural works largely reflects the idea that the relations of friendship, especially homosocial, particularly between men, is a moral value than heterosexual relationships. [12] In such a cosmology, heterosexual relationships could be perceived from within oneself and risk jeopardising the homosocial relationships of camaraderie and friendship, and the same social and national cohesion, thought to be based on collective values that conflicts with the value of exclusivity in the couple, “cozy comforts of home” [13].”

Mona. “Représenter le corps socialiste : l’exemple du peintre A. Deïneka (1899-1969),” on the Genre, politique et sexualités website, 16th April 2012 (translation by Google translate)



The Temptation of the male

An acknowledged desire for the male body, and the liberalisation of social conventions gave rise to some daring works from the mid 20th century onwards. In the United States, in spite of its puritan outlook since the Second World War, Paul Cadmus did not balk at depicting a pick up scene between men in a most unlikely Finistère. While the physical attraction of the body remained confined for a long time to the secrecy of private interiors, it was increasingly evident in public, in exclusively masculine social situations like communal showers or in the guise of a reconstructed Platonic Antiquity.

Eroticism is even presented quite crudely by Cocteau, whose influence on the young Warhol is undeniable. Beauty and seduction part company when the ideal transmitted by references to the past takes root in idiosyncratic practices and contemporary culture, as Hockney has expressed so accurately in his painting.


Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) 'The Sleep of Endymion' 1791


Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson (French, 1767-1824)
The Sleep of Endymion
Oil on canvas
H. 90; W. 117.5cm
Montargis, Musée Girodet
© Cliché J. Faujour/musée Girodet, Montargis


Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Mercury' 2001


Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard b. 1953)
© Pierre et Gilles



The Object of desire

For many years, the male body in art had been the subject of “objectification”. The unrestrained admiration for the perfection of the Greco-Roman nudes, a purely intellectual reconstruction of a body that had become the canon of beauty, meant that no interpretation of the nude was considered improper, even Winckelmann’s, with its powerful erotic charge.

Although Academic circles naturally encouraged the nude in great history paintings, certain subjects retained elements of sensuality and ambiguity. At the turn of the 19th century, discussion of the characteristics of the two sexes and their respective boundaries aroused interest in the bisexual amours of Jupiter and Apollo, while the formula of the young hero dying in the arms of his male lover was met with particular interest.

Girodet’s Endymion is depicted as an ephebe, his body caressed sensuously by the rays of the moon goddess, inspiring numerous homoerotic interpretations. With the Symbolists, as with Gustave Moreau, the difference between the sexes results in the downfall of a vulnerable man overcome by an inexorable and destructive force that is seen as feminine. However, at the other extreme, and in a less dramatic way, Hodler depicts the awakening of adolescent love between a self-obsessed young man and a girl who is captivated by his charm.

The sensuality and acknowledged eroticisation considered to be appropriate to the female body during the 19th century struck a serious blow against the traditional virility of the male nude: this blow was not fatal however, as the male nude was still very visible in the 20th century. Sexual liberation expressed, loud and clear, a feeling of voluptuousness and, often with few reservations, endowed the male body with a sexual charge. The model was usually identified, an assertive sign as a statement of the individuality: with Pierre and Gilles, where mythology and the contemporary portrait become one.

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website


Antonin Mercié. 'David' 1872


Antonin Mercié (French, 1845-1916)
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris


David LaChapelle. 'Eminem - About to Blow' 1999


David LaChapelle (American, b. 1963)
Eminem – About to Blow
Chromogenic Print


Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966) 'Les bains mystérieux' (Mysterious Baths) c. 1934-36


Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1883-1966)
Les bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths)
c. 1934-36
Tempera on card
39 x 31cm
© Musei Civici Fiorentini – Raccolta Alberto Della Ragione


Egon Schiele. 'Self-Portrait, Kneeling' 1910


Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918)
Self-Portrait, Kneeling
© Leopold Museum / Manfred Thumberger


Henri-Camille-Danger.-Fléau!,-1901. Paris, musée d'Orsay-WEB


Henri Camille Danger (French, 1857-1937)
Fléau! (Scourge!)
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Koloman Moser. 'Le Printemps' (Spring) c. 1900


Koloman Moser (Austrian, 1868-1918)
Le Printemps (Spring)
c. 1900


Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) 'Grand Guerrier avec Jambe' 1893-1902


Antoine Bourdelle (French, 1861-1929)
Grand Guerrier avec Jambe


George Platt Lynes. 'Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)' 1935


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)
Gelatin silver print
© Christoph Irrgang, Hamburg


Lutteurs d'Alexandre. 'Falguière' 1875


Lutteurs d’Alexandre (French, 1851-1900)
Oil on canvas
H. 240; W. 191cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski



From the 1870s, Alexandre Falguière worked simultaneously as a painter and sculptor. Wrestlers, which was his first large painting, caught the critics’ eye and won him a second-class medal at the Salon in 1875. The theme of modern wrestling, fashionable in the Romantic period, had enjoyed a revival in the 1850s. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the figure of the wrestler took on another meaning: his courage was held up as an example to develop the young citizens’ fighting spirit.

Critics were divided between those who scorned “the painting of a sculptor” and the larger group of those who recognised that Falguière had the talent of a true painter. The discussion also focused on the painting’s realism. Some commentators, who preferred the antique, slated the triviality of the theme, seeing nothing more than banal fairground wrestlers. Defenders of realism, on the other hand, enthused over the modernity of the subject and the lack of idealisation.

From 1876, Falguière nonetheless forsook modern subjects in his painting and turned to historical, mythological, literary or religious themes. If Castagnary is to be believed, the painting “was no more than a response to a dare by a painter faintly infatuated with himself and his talent.” Falguière perhaps produced The Wrestlers to prove that he was also a painter.

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website [Online] Cited 06/01/2021


Lucian Freud. 'Naked Man on Bed' 1989


Lucian Freud (British, 1922-2011)
Naked Man on Bed
Oil on canvas


Lucian Freud. 'David and Eli' 2004


Lucian Freud (British, 1922-2011)
David and Eli
Oil on canvas



Masculin / Masculin – La video on YouTube



Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07

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Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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