Posts Tagged ‘the nude body


Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Grand Palais, Paris

Exhibition dates: 26th March – 13th July 2014

Grand Palais
Galerie sud-est, entrée avenue Winston Churchill


Many thankx to the Grand Palais for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



“I have boundless admiration for the naked body. I worship it.”

“I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things. It’s always little altars.”

“I am looking for perfection in form. I do that with portraits. I do it with cocks. I do it with flowers.”

Robert Mapplethorpe



Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014


Installation views of the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014
© Didier Plowy pour la Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris 2014



The exhibition will present over 250 works making it one of the largest retrospective shows for this artist ever held in a museum. It will cover Mapplethorpe’s entire career as a photographer, from the Polaroids of the early 1970s to the portraits from the late 1980s, touching on his sculptural nudes and still lifes, and sadomasochism.

The focus on his two muses Patti Smith and Lisa Lyon explores the theme of women and femininity and reveals a less known aspect of the photographer’s work. The challenge of this exhibition is to show that Mapplethorpe is a great classical artist, who addressed issues in art using photography as he might have used sculpture. It also puts Mapplethorpe’s art into the context of the New York art scene in the 1970-1980s.

In his interview with Janet Kardon in 1987, Mapplethorpe explained that photography in the 1970s was the perfect medium for a fast-paced time. He did not really choose photography; in a way it was photography that chose him. Later in the same interview, he said “If I had been born one hundred or two hundred years ago, I might have been a sculptor, but photography is a very quick way to see, to make a sculpture. Lisa Lyon reminded me of Michelangelo’s subjects, because he did muscular women.”

Mapplethorpe positioned himself from the outset as an Artist, with a capital A. Unlike Helmut Newton, who as a teenager already wanted to be a fashion photographer, and imposed his vision of the world and photography, making it an art in its own right, Robert Mapplethorpe is a sculptor at heart, a plastic artist driven by the question of the body and its sexuality and obsessed by the search for perfect form.

Like Man Ray, Mapplethorpe wanted to be “a creator of images” rather than a photographer, “a poet” rather than a documentarist. In the catalogue for the Milan exhibition which compared the two artists, Bruno Cora recalls the parallels in their lives and works: “Before becoming masterly photographers, Man Ray and Mapplethorpe had both been painters and sculptors, creators of objects; they both lived in Brooklyn in New York; they both made portraits of the intellectuals of their time; and they were both incisive explorers of the nude form, its sculptural qualities and the energy emanating from it.”

Mapplethorpe was an artist before being a photographer. His images come from a pictorial culture in which we find Titian (The Flaying of Marsyas / Dominick and Elliot), David, Dali, and even the great artists of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Bernini …

As in Huysmans’s novel, the exhibition is a countdown for this other dandy from the end of another world, Robert Mapplethorpe. It starts with his self-portrait with a skull-headed cane, the image of a young man already old, the tragedy of a life cut down in full flight by AIDS. But his almost royal final posture, as if beyond death, still (just) alive but already in the posterity of his oeuvre, seems to beckon us with a gesture of his pastoral cane to follow him into the world that he constructed in twenty years of photography. The exhibition continues with statuary, a dominant theme in Mapplethorpe’s last years, photos of statues of the gods in his personal pantheon: Eros, of course, and Hermes … The artist always said he used photography to make sculptures, and he ended his oeuvre with photographs of sculptures. His nudes were already photographic sculptures.

Works are not created just anywhere. To be fully appreciated, Mapplethorpe’s art must be put into the socio-cultural context of arty New York in the 1970s and 80s, and the underground gay culture there at that time. Two permeable and equally radical worlds. To take the measure of the libertarian explosion of the time, we need to watch Flesh, Warhol’s film with Joe Dalessandro, which narrates 24 hours in the life of a young New York male prostitute. To understand the violence and passion of gay sexuality for young New Yorkers fighting for freedom in a repressive period, we must read Edmund White’s The Beautiful Room is Empty, the story of a young gay in the years of riots and demonstrations and extreme emancipation; and Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance (1978), to plunge into the sexual experiments of Fire Island in the 1970s.

Mapplethorpe is hailed as one of the world’s greatest photographers and the exhibition aims to give a broad view of his work.

Press release from the Grand Palais website


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Milton Moore' 1981


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Milton Moore
50.8 x 40.6cm / 50.8 x 40.6cm
Silver gelatin prints
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Milton Moore' (detail) 1981


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Milton Moore (detail)
50.8 x 40.6cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken Moody' 1983


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody
50.8 x 40.6cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission



Introductory text

Robert Mapplethorpe was an artist with an obsessive quest for aesthetic perfection.

A sculptor at heart, and in his imagination, he wanted “people to see [his] works first as art and second as photography.”1 An admirer of Michelangelo, Mapplethorpe championed the classical ideal – revised and reworked for the libertarian New York of the 1970s – and explored sophisticated printing techniques to create unique works and mixed compositions, which he framed in unusual ways.

Like the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, this exhibition has been organised “À rebours” [against the nap] and examines the work of another dandy, living at the end of another world. It opens with Mapplethorpe’s self-portrait with the skull-head cane: the image of a young man, already old, tragically cut down in the prime of life by AIDS, it also reveals how the master of the realm of shadows – photography – gave free rein to his imagination. Like a modern day Orpheus, beyond death, he seems alive – although only just – yet already in the afterlife of his work, beckoning us with his satanic cane to follow him into the underworld of his life, in search of his desire.

“Photography and sexuality have a lot in common,” explains Mapplethorpe. “Both are question marks, and that’s precisely what excites me most in life.”2 Exploring the photography of the body, he pushed it to the limits of pornography, perhaps like no other artist before him. The desire we see in these images – often the photographer’s own desire – also reflects life in New York, as lived by some, in the 1970s and 80s, at the height of the sexual liberation movement. “I’m trying to record the moment I’m living in and where I’m living, which happens to be in New York. I am trying to pick up on the madness and give it some order.”3

This retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work – the first in France since he passed away – features some two hundred and fifty images exploring a range of themes. They cover every aspect of Mapplethorpe’s art – bronze bodies and flesh sculptures, geometric and choreographic, still lives and anatomical details, bodies as flowers and flowers as bodies, court portraiture, night photography, and eroticism, soft and hard – interspersed with self-portraiture in all its forms. The works from the photographer’s early career, which close the exhibition, reveal how the path taken by his art was already mapped out in his first Polaroids. The sign of a great artist.

1. Inge Biondi, “The Yin and the Yang of Robert Mapplethorpe,” in The Print Collector’s Newsletter, New York, January 1979, p. 11
2. Mark Thompson, “Mapplethorpe,” in The Advocate, Atlanta, 24 July 1980
3. Sarah Kent, “Mapplethorpe,” in Time Out, London, 3-9 November 1983


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' 1987


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
61 x 50.8cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Calla Lily' 1986


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Calla Lily
92.7 x 92.7cm
Silver gelatin print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'The Sluggard' (Le Paresseux) 1988


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
The Sluggard (Le Paresseux)
61 x 50.8cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-portrait (Autoportrait)' 1988


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-portrait (Autoportrait)
61 x 50.8cm
Platinum print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission



Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales
3, Avenue du Général Eisenhower
75008 Paris

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 10pm
Monday and Sunday 10am – 8pm
Closed every Tuesday

Grand Palais website


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Exhibition: ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides: Nude Photography around 1900’ at the Museum for Photography, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 25th August 2013


Many thankx to the Museum for Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




Léon Gimpel. 'The Sculptor' 1911


Léon Gimpel (French, 1873-1948)
The Sculptor
© Société française de photographie, Paris


Photographer unknown. 'Act of Headstand' Before 1905


Photographer unknown
Act of Headstand
Before 1905
Silver gelatin print
© Universität der Künste Berlin, Universitätsarchiv


Photographer unknown. 'The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men's club, Munich' 1907


Photographer unknown
The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men’s club, Munich
From: Athletics Sports Illustrated Newspaper, 01/19/1907
© Niedersächsisches Institut für Sport-geschichte, Hannover


Otto Skowranek. 'Olga Desmond - Sword Dance' 1908


Otto Skowranek (German)
Olga Desmond – Sword Dance
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek


Frank Eugene Smith. 'Adam and Eve' 1898/99


Frank Eugene (American, 1865-1936)
Adam and Eve
Published in Camera Work, 1910
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek



At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition The Naked Truth and More Besides presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motion study photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction. The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in the exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.


The exhibition

A Commodity Market – The Machinery of the Nude

Since the invention of photography, the unclothed human body has been positioned – sitting, standing and reclining – in front of the camera. Large numbers of nude images, avidly pursued by censors, were in circulation as of the middle of the 19th century. By around 1900 nude photography had broken into the public sphere. Starting in 1880, photographs had become easier to produce and reproduce. They began to flood the market in various printed forms: alongside stereoviews, cartes de visite and single prints, nudes could now be found on postcards, trading cards, autograph cards, posters and in magazines, books and films. Nude photographs were promoted, ordered, sold and sent. They were published for a large audience under the guise of artistic or academic activity, and people’s viewing habits, their gaze on the naked body – their own or someone else’s – began to change. In this process it became clear that photography played a significant role in the marketing of the naked body, but also in people’s self-understanding. Today’s arbitrary use of scantily-clad models to advertise goods is but one phenomenon that continues what was emerging with the visual material of the turn of the 20th century.


“For Artistic Purposes Only” – Model Studies and Photographic Academies

Nude pictures were reaching the public as “photographs after nature.” In the process, the artistic content or the intended use of the photographs was always emphasised. If we were to judge by the quantity of materials said to be produced solely for artists, then the largest professional group around 1900 would have been composed of them. “For artistic purposes only” was the password to uncensored production of nude photography. For many artists, photographic depictions actually did replace calling in live models. Art academies created a reference collection with nude studies. In many cases, works of painting or sculpture can be directly traced back to a particular photograph. Taken in classrooms that tended toward sobriety, most of the poses were borrowed from the art-historical cannon. Countless Venus and Apollo figures, cherubs, Atlases, Horatii, Graces and boys in the classical style populate the portfolios of the period. A practice of child nudes developed in the slipstream of the photographic academies. Ostensibly, these were created to show the angelic innocence of children of all ages. Photographers also documented classes in studios and at academies. Thus we see photographs of entire student groups with their nude model, and there are also fine examples of the triad of artist, model and work.


(Visual) Yearnings – Ideals from Arcadia

The unclothed body was first and foremost an object of erotic associations, and they were rendered by photography in more or less subtle ways. While a large audience enjoyed the Arcadian idylls of Sicily without coming into a conflict with the law, there was likely an even larger public buying the goods “under the table” or only “per order,” potentially becoming guilty of immorality. Under Wilhelm II, male friendships were cherished as pillars of the system. Homosexuality, by contrast, was the subject of heated debate, its reception mixed. With this in mind, the vast array of potentially homoerotic photographs that were produced is revealing.

Wilhelm von Gloeden counts among the best-known practitioners of a kind of nude photography that gave voice to longings for an idyll that was generally Mediterranean or classical in nature. His photographs enjoyed tremendous commercial success around 1900. Numerous fellow photographers, most of them anonymous, began to photograph young and old satyrs, Ephebes, Apollos and shepherd boys and girls, staging the journey to Arcadia for the camera. Their images were published in such places as the first homoerotic magazine Der Eigene alongside poems, prose and essays. At the same time, these nude photographs were added to ethnographic collections (for example as Sicilian folklore), were discussed in the medical context and were used by (body) reformers to communicate an ideal.


Vividly Immoral – Censored and Pornographic Photography

Since the invention of photography, photographs have been produced that are erotic or pornographic in nature. Crude or more sophisticated fashions, fantasies, means of distribution and censorship changed depending on the period. Around 1900, censorship in Germany generally went hand in hand with the so-called Lex Heinze, a newly added paragraph that forbade public exhibition of material classified as immoral. When enforced, the censorship effort resulted in the impounding by police of thousands of images from individual distribution businesses and studios. But in the face of the new, ever-growing production of nude photographs, the aim of gaining the upper hand over the flood of images was destined to fail.

Material from private collections is rare today but it would have been found in a large number of ordinary households. Aficionados put together albums in which they showed their predilections using a combination of photographs, drawings or caricatures, and sometimes writing. Even the police kept an exemplary inventory of nude photography which they collected in albums. In Germany there remains only the album from the Police Museum of Lower Saxony, whose large format, elaborately stamped leather binding, and careful arrangement of the diverse material make it clear just how significant nude photography was to the guardians of the law, too.


“The photographic plate is the retina of scholars” – The Nude Body in Science

A great number of scientific fields made use of photography in their systematic mapping out of the visible world. The naked body was measured, compared and assessed. Norms were defined and aberrations shown. The new, photographically mediated consciousness of physical constitutions made itself felt in the way people saw themselves and their contemporaries. But the seeming objectivity of the medium also abetted discriminatory views. The photography of movement played a particular role in the photographic experiments that sought to describe and unravel the human body in all its aspects. Special devices were used to record the consecutive positions of motor activities. In addition to movement in everyday life and in sports, photographers also documented freely invented movement and movement resulting from disease. Eadweard Muybridge and Ottomar Anschütz together with Albert Londe count among the best-known representatives of the photographic anatomy study and the systematic recording of movement.

Using special equipment, photographers provided physicians with illustrations of diseases and physical ailments. Image material was gathered on a regular basis and used in medical research and teaching. The often highly suggestive visual language of the time is also reflected in scientific publications. Many of the diagnostic findings and display formats from around 1900 seem outdated today.

When photography became more compatible with travelling, ethnographers brought back to Europe a large number of photographs of the sometimes unclothed inhabitants of colonies they were visiting and exploring. And as the ethnographic nude became more pervasive, posing for the camera became more common. Postures and props were modelled on recognised artworks as well as ideas about foreign cultures that were prevalent in Europe. Photographic comparisons were designed to emphasise particular characteristics of ethnic groups or body types: here, technical tricks, such as using different lighting, backgrounds and poses, came into play. This kind of image material fuelled chauvinist and racist delusions, which became widely published.


“Naked People – a Cheerful Future” – Nude Photography and the Cult of the Body around 1900

At the turn of the century, questions about the body were quickly gaining in importance. Were corsets desirable? The photographs of corset marks on naked female bodies argue against them. What good was exercise? Photographs of trained naked bodies documented the benefits. What did a normal person look like, and what did the ideal body look like? With nude photography printed in numerous magazines and books, people began to develop an eye for these matters. With more and more images becoming available, people became more discerning when it came to their body versus foreign bodies. The body could be compared and evaluated. Ideals spread through powerful imagery and gained an increasing influence on individual body culture.

During the reform movement people, especially those in the German Empire, were drawn to the open air. They enjoyed so-called light baths, whose benefits were discussed at length and proven with photographs. An emerging nudism used photography to demonstrate a deliberately relaxed association with one another. Scantily clad or unclothed, stars soon had their pictures taken onstage, becoming famous when their images were used in advertising and turned into items of mass distribution. Their postcards and cartes de visite were precursors of the pin-up. Several of these images bring to mind hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s. Yet, among the nudists of the turn of the century were also publishers such as Richard Ungewitter, whose racist theories, based in folk identity, lent decidedly ideological undertones to the nude images they used in their argumentation.


Passions of Art Photography – Pictorialist Nudes

Beginning in the 1890s many photographers sought to elevate their craft to the status of art with the aid of particular printing techniques and strategies of image creation. Nude photography, certainly a pleasurable pastime for such ambitious art photographers as the so-called Pictorialists, produced a wide variety of motifs. In the prestigious magazine Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz published a vast number of such images, including works by Robert Demachy, Constant Puyo, Heinrich Kühn, Annie Brigman and Edward Steichen. Among the Pictorialist nudes are expressive mise-en-scenes, some of them self-portraits of the photographers, whose subject matter was by turns poetic and symbolic. Besides this work, there certainly are images that are conventionally pleasant or academic and that stand out from the common material mostly due to their high print quality. Their pictorial techniques serve an atmosphere of everything from playful coquetry to dramatic religiousness. As the clearly preferred pose of wrestlers was that of a poet or thinker, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker can be seen as bringing together the aesthetics of sculpture, Pictorialism and athlete photography.

Press release from the Museum of Photography website


Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903


Emile Bayard (French, 1837-1891)
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34


Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903


Emile Bayard (French, 1837-1891)
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34



How many artfully-draped centaurs, bacchantes, and nymphs does it take to make a dirty magazine? Only one early 20th-century periodical has the answer: The Aesthetic Nude (Le Nu Esthétique)… Illustrated entirely with unclothed models enacting quasi-mythological imagery, the covers alone range from a rapturous Leda and the Swan to a centaur’s semi-consensual abduction of a nymph (above). Inside each issue appear even more views of studio models in increasingly far-fetched poses, all of which were ostensibly meant to supplant the live model in studio practice. It’s not clear that anyone ever copied these compositions in paint, but the effort that went into cutting out the photos in lively shapes, and the publication’s run of several years (c. 1902-06), suggests a market existed for it!

These ‘aesthetic nudes’ beg the question of what constituted nudity, as opposed to nakedness in the late 19th and early 20th century. Was it simply the academic and mythological guise that made these images acceptable, even collectible?

Text from the ARTicle, Art Institute of Chicago blog [Online] Cited 08/08/2013


Photographer unknown. 'Two women on a carousel Pig' c. 1900


Photographer unknown
Two women on a carousel Pig
c. 1900
Silver gelatin print
© Collection GERARD LEVY, Paris


Albert Londe. '15 Chronophotographs of Charcot's son / Charcot plays football' c. 1890


Albert Londe (French, 1858-1917)
15 Chronophotographs of Charcot’s son / Charcot plays football
c. 1890
Gelatin silver print
© École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; Reprofoto: Jean-Michel Lapelerie


Photographer unknown. 'Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked' 1906


Photographer unknown
Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked
© Sammlung Robert Lebeck, Berlin


Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?). 'Male Nude in Tree' c. 1900


Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?)
Male Nude in Tree
c. 1900
Gelatin silver print
© Berlinische Galerie


Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock. 'Transparency' 1904


Rudolf Lehnert (Austro-Hungarian, 1878-1948) and Ernst Landrock (German, 1878-1966)
Salter paper print
© Münchner Stadtmuseum


Heinrich Kühn. 'Female Nude' c. 1906


Heinrich Kühn (Austrian-German, 1866-1944)
Female Nude
c. 1906
Bromoil print
© Estate of the Artist / Galerie Kicken Berlin



Museum of Photography
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 266424242

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 7pm
Closed Mondays

Museum of Photography website


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Exhibition: ‘Nude Visions. 150 Years of Nude Photography’ at Museum Fur Kunst und Gewerbe (MKG), Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 25th April 2010


Many thankx to the MKG for allowing me to publish the photographs in this post. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




Jan Mutsu. 'Japanese Man with Tattoo' c. 1955


Jan Mutsu
Japanese Man with Tattoo
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 25.7cm
Münchner Stadtmuseum


Gerhard Riebicke (German, 1878-1957) 'Couple Performing German Dance' c. 1930


Gerhard Riebicke (German, 1878-1957)
Couple Performing German Dance
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
11.6 x 16.2 cm
Bodo Niemann and Münchner Stadtmuseum



Gerhard Riebicke spent his childhood in Switzerland. He studied in Tübingen, worked as a tutor in Poznan, and appropriated the technique of self taught photographer. In 1909 he was a press photographer in Berlin. Gradually, his focus shifted to the sports and nudity culture photography (ball games, jumps, dance or bathing scenes).

As a friend of Adolf Koch, he documented his school for physical education and nude culture. As a chronicler of the reform movement, he also maintained contacts with the Laban School of Hertha Feist and other dance and gymnastics schools Hedwig Hagemann, Berte Trümpi and Mary Wigman. He was represented in Hans Surén’s “The Man and the Sun” in 1924. After 1933 he concentrated on sports photography.

Text translated from the German Wikipedia website


Josef Breitenbach (German-American, 1896-1984) 'Nude' from the series 'This beautiful landscape' 1963


Josef Breitenbach (German-American, 1896-1984)
Nude from the series This beautiful landscape
Gelatin silver print
27.5 x 35.3cm
Breitenbach Trust USA and Munchner Stadtmuseum


T.W. Salomon (attributed) 'Female Nude in Armchair' c. 1935


T.W. Salomon (attributed)
Female Nude in Armchair
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
27.5 x 27.4cm
Münchner Stadtmuseum



An exhibition with more than 250 original photos, books and folders with studies from the nude, including masterpieces from each period.

The representation of the unclothed human body has exuded a great fascination ever since time began. The exhibition Nude Visions invites visitors to embark on a journey through a collection of depictions of the human body spanning 150 years. More than 250 original photos, books and folders with studies from the nude will be on view, including masterpieces from each period: from photographs dating from the 19th century which seek their models in Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance, up to Surrealistic experiments and fashion and lifestyle photography. The exhibition illustrates changing ideals of beauty and moral perceptions, and reveals once again the constant attempt to balance between educational openness, titillation and curiosity.

“Without any doubt, there is nothing which draws the attention of the observer to it so much as the naked human body.” This comment of the journalist and photographer Kurt Freytag in1909 is as true today as it was then. The exhibition turns this fact to its advantage and deals with the historical, aesthetic and ideological development of images of the human body in photography. The show is divided into seven chapters devoted to the meaning and function of the unclothed human body in photography, and tracing the history of the medium: “Academies and Exotic Pictures in the 19th century,” “Art photography around 1900 (Pictorialism),” “Avant-gardes of the 20s and 30s,” “Artistic positions after 1945,” “Naturism,” “The Male Nude” and “Glamourous Nudes.” The first coloured Daguerreotypes of curvaceous ladies with blushing cheeks dating from 1855 meet the unflatteringly in-your-face and voyeuristic self-portrait of the photographer Frank Stürmer from 2004. These two photos mark the two ends of the spectrum covered by the exhibition, which illustrates the evolution of nude photography over sixteen decades by the example of more than 250 eminent works.

Nude photography is always, too, a process of negotiation between revealing and concealing. This exhibition makes clear the ambivalence of what is visible and what is unseen, of shame and curiosity, of legitimation and provocativeness. How nakedness is treated is closely bound up with the specific social context in which it occurs, the ideas of morality and the aesthetic ideal of an era. The motif of the nude is always influenced here both by the historical artistic tradition and reactions to contemporary impulses, which are interpreted by the photographer. Thus the movement for women’s emancipation, for instance, led to new ways of looking at both the female and the male body, as seen for example in the work of Herlinde Koelbl. Images which were still regarded as being scandalous at the beginning of the 20th century, triggering moral misgivings and controversy about a subject perceived as being delicate, would hardly bring a blush to the face of anyone living today. It is not only the motifs which have moved on, but also the reproducibility of the images and the extent of their media coverage impact on the awareness and significance of nakedness in society.

The origins of the history of nude photography lie in the so-called “academies,” which provided painters, graphic artists and sculptors with study objects in the 19th century and which followed the historical artistic models of Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance. Nude photography soon increasingly became emancipated from being a mere model for painting and sculpture, and developed artistic ambitions of its own: photographers discovered in the art of the fin de siècle, with its debt to Symbolism, the nude as a reflection of emotional states and yearnings. In the outgoing 19th century, with its bias towards the exact sciences, the human body served as an object for the study of movement, such as in the celebrated series shots by Eadweard Muybridge showing the sequence of motions in human movement.

Whereas historically staged scenes and compositions are still created in the sheltered environment of the atelier at the beginnings of photography, we find the first open-air nudes after 1870. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Guglielmo Plüschow and others took advantage of the light in the Mediterranean South to stage their visions of an earthly Arcadia. As a feature of the Lebensreform back-to-nature movement which gained ground from the turn of the century onwards, especially in Germany, nude photography became a torchbearer of the Naturist movement. The ornamentally arranged groupings of naked dancers which Gerhard Riebicke for example photographs, mainly in the German countryside, became a symbol for the liberation from the moral constraints of civilisation and industrialisation. The aesthetic of athletic bodies engaged in sporting activities or dancers in motion was taken up in the heroic physical ideal of the National Socialists and can later still be found in the cult of bodybuilding.

A new, more radical vision was developed by the Avant-garde movements after the 1920s, with their abstract and surrealistic experiments, such as the stories narrated in a play of light and shadow by František Drtikol or the deformed bodies in the works of Hans List. The theme of “glamour” plays a crucial role above all in fashion photography. That chapter poses the question as to what role is played in the debate on fashion by the way of showing the unclothed female body, by male desire and how perceptions change in the course of cultural history. Glamour can be seen in the erotic images from the Atelier Manassé, shown in soft focus, in Bert Stern’s portraits from the “last sitting” of Marilyn Monroe, up to and including Helmut Newton’s photos. In addition to these, selected works by amateurs as well as the male nude as an expression of gay emancipation will also be presented in pictures, particularly by Will McBride or Herbert Roettgen, who placed the representation of the naked male body in the focus of their work as an expression of their homosexuality, an emblem of their coming-out.

The depiction of the naked torso is shrouded in an aura of scandal and has always been a political bone of contention, whereby images of the bare human body send signals which differ according to their historical context: the photographic artists of the 1970s, working within the framework of body art and performance events, declared the directness of their own physical experience to be a political necessity. In retrospect, their work can be seen as a last desperate attempt to grapple with the vanishing concept of the subjective personality before the transition to the post-modern age. The private spaces of life too are meanwhile also illuminated in a quite different way than 25 years ago. The photographer Thomas Ruff deals in his works, which he imbues with a diffuse haziness by digital means, with the theme of the exhibitionism which can go as far as pornographic exposure of one’s own and others’ nakedness in internet forums. Nude Visions shows that the representation of the naked human body always also has something to do with the quest for insight into what human beings (and one’s own self) really are and what role they play in society.

Press release from the MKG website [Online] Cited 15/04/2010 no longer available online


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Arab Boy with Desert Candles' 1935


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Arab Boy with Desert Candles
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 22.5cm
Herbert List-inheritance, Hamburg and Munchner Stadtmuseum


André Gelpke (German, b. 1947) 'Angelique, Salambo, St.Pauli/Hamburg' 1976


André Gelpke (German, b. 1947)
Angelique, Salambo, St.Pauli/Hamburg
Gelatin silver print
32.6 x 22cm
André Gelpke and Münchner Stadtmuseum


Norbert Przybilla (1953-1996) 'Franz' 1986


Norbert Przybilla (1953-1996)
Gelatin silver print
50 x 50 cm
Munchner Stadtmuseum


Bert Stern (American, 1929-2013) 'Marilyn Monroe' from the series 'The Last Sitting' 1962


Bert Stern (American, 1929-2013)
Marilyn Monroe from the series The Last Sitting
48 x 48.1cm
Bert Stern



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Steintorplatz | 20099 Hamburg

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Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg 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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