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The Naked Truth - The Nude in Art, and Drawing from Life

Amanda is a keen artist and art historian with a particular interest in 19th-century art, especially the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

La Grande Odalisque by Ingres

La Grande Odalisque by Ingres

The Nude in Art - The Bare Facts!

Years ago I went to life classes with my friend Ella. We were both keen young artists and we loved to work directly from a live, nude model. Often these models were male, and Ella who had a suspicious minded, jealous boyfriend, could never resisting adding a few crucial inches here and there when depicting the male form in all its glory!

Our nude models came in all shapes and sizes; sometimes old, sometimes young, sometimes slim and muscular, and other times more amply proportioned. One older gentleman in his seventies suffered from alopecia and had no hair anywhere on his body. He was one of our favourites. The many folds and creases of his neck reminded me of a tortoise, and were always a challenge to draw accurately. He would sit so still, his eyes closed, that once or twice I feared he’d actually passed away whilst still modelling! Another young lady had so many piercings and tattoos that she was a work of art in her own right. It was tempting to draw the piercings rather than the form, but our tutor was strict, and he would get us focussed by asking the girl to do a series of five minute poses. This was a great discipline, as you capture the true essence of form in a few short minutes, and don’t have a chance to linger on extraneous detail. Life class gave me a brilliant grounding in accurately depicting the human form both clothed, and unclothed, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to aspiring artists.

Many male friends have asked me whether the models were 'hot'. Well, no, not to me at least. My main objective was to find the line and get down on paper a fair representation of what was before me. My fingers blackened with charcoal, or covered in paint or pastel, I would work as fast as I could to complete the task before the model changed poses. I didn't have time for anything more than passing admiration for a well-toned body either male or female, I was too busy sketching and finding shapes and negative space.

I came across another hub recently written from a model's perspective, and it inspired me to write this. I hope you enjoy sharing with me some of my favourite works of art!

Edouard Manet - le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe


Manet's naughty picnic

This large oil painting caused uproar when it was first exhibited. The nude component was not the problem, as the nude in art was well-established from classical times. The problem was the naked, and partially clad young women in close juxtaposition with the fully clothed gentlemen. What kind of young women flaunted themselves in the open air with such gay abandon? We can only guess. Needless to say the supposition was that these young hussies were kept women or worse!

Edouard Manet was one of the original French Impressionists. He was born in 1832 and died in 1832. This painting can be seen in the flesh, at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

La Toilette by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec


Toulouse-Lautrec - a little man with a big talent

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec is justifiably famous for his many beautiful paintings and drawings of the 'working girls' and dancers who frequented the parts of Paris where he lived and worked. La Toilette is one such work.

Sparing in detail, this depiction of a young women preparing herself for the day is a bright and cheerful image. The girl has paused for a moment after pulling on her black stockings. Her red hair is in disarray and she is looking away, perhaps contemplating the day ahead. Toulouse-Lautrec conveyed so much energy and life in his work without ever labouring too hard to capture every detail.

Painted in 1896, this is also in the Musee D'Orsay, Paris, but many more of Toulouse-Lautrec's works can be seen in his former home in Albi. If you are as big a fan of Toulouse-Lautrec as I am, then it would make a worthwhile detour in any French holiday schedule!

Venus by Sandro Botticelli


The Birth of Venus - with strategic hairstyling!

I love this 15th Century painting by Sandro Botticelli. The picture is in Florence, and has to be on every art-lovers 'must see' list. The freshness of the colour and design after more than 500 years bears testimony to the skill of Botticelli as an artist. I also love the way Venus preserves her modesty with a strategically placed lock of hair!

Danae by Gustav Klimt 1907


Klimt's unusual viewpoint - Danae

Danae is on exhibition in Vienna, and is representative of Klimt's preference for an unusual viewpoint from which to make his composition. Klimt's love of pattern and texture make his pictures both unique and highly sought after. The richness of the model's red hair contrasts beautifully with the gold and green patterned background, and the huge expanse of thigh in the foreground is both sensual and unsettling.

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vincii


Vitruvian Man -one of art's most famous images

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) was the original Renaissance man. His many interests included art, anatomy, geology and science. His drawing of Vitruvian Man must surely be one of Arts best known images, and it has recently acquired new fans through it's recent role in 'The Da Vinci Code'!

Vitruvian Man, quite apart from being a striking image, is actually designed to show the proportions of the human figure.

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The Sleepers by Gustave Courbet


Courbet's erotic commission from Khalil-Bey

French artist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was a talented draughtsman who tried his hand at a wide range of subjects from landscape to portraiture, but it is this depiction of girl on girl love that is perhaps his most famous (or infamous!) work.

The painting of two naked sleepers, their limbs entangled in the intimacy of a close embrace, their hair tousled, was commissioned by a wealthy Turk, Khalil Bey, who was a renowned collector of erotica. Completed in 1866, the picture is now in a collection in Paris.

The Great Bathers by Paul Cezanne


The giant nudes of Philadelphia

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) painted a series of nudes late in his career, and this giant painting nearly seven feet high and over eight feet long, was completed in 1905. In this painting Cezanne attempted to integrate nude figures with landscape, and he achieves this by making his figures echo the leaning trees which form an arch in the centre of the painting.

This epic work is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Les Trois Graces by Van Loo


Three Graceful Ladies

These three lovely ladies are 'Les Trois Graces' by Van Loo.

I have added this after following the link kindly left by Tom Rubenoff (See Comments)

Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebre


The Naked Beauty hanging in a Melbourne Pub

'Chloe' was painted in 1875 by Jules Joseph Lefebre. She hangs in the Young and Jackson pub which stands on the corner of Flinders Street and Swanston Street in Melbourne, Australia. She's quite a beauty, and worth seeking out if you are ever in Melbourne!

This addition to my gallery was recommended by Agvulpes (see comments below)

The Model Writing Postcards by Carl Larsson


The Model Writing Postcards by Carl Larsson

I came across this Carl Larsson painting purely by chance. I love Larsson's work, and I included several examples in my Christmas Art hub. I was  so surprised to find this image because it's such an unusual subject for Larsson. I'm far more accustomed to the detailed watercolours of family life for which he became famous.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Larsson, he was primarily an illustrator living and working in Sweden at the turn of the 19th century. This particular painting dates from 1906.

Male Life Study by John Singer Sargent


Classic male life study by John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) had a long and successful career as a portrait artist. Born in Florence of American parents, he forged a truly international career, painting throughout Europe, and also visiting America on numerous occasions. He was a thoroughly cultured man who spoke fluent French, Italian and German, and he put these linguistic skills to good use during his time as a war artist in France during the first world war.

I've included this drawing partly because I like it, and because it showcases Singer Sargent's great skill as a portraitist, but also because it brings us back to the beginning of this discussion of the nude in art. Back to the life class where artists learn the basics of posture and form.


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Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 26, 2013:

Thank you for stopping by and commenting Medicivalencia.

medicivalencia on January 24, 2013:

Awesome art!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 14, 2011:

Hi Sasanka7, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

sasanka7 from Calcutta, India on October 11, 2011:

beautiful hub.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 29, 2011:

Hi Docmo, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Mohan Kumar from UK on January 29, 2011:

Beautifully compiled, rich in information - loved this hub. Thanks for this ... I am looking forward to reading more of yours.. voted up!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 18, 2011:

Hi Ian, life drawing is the best way to improve figurative drawing skills in my opinion. Although I often use photographic references when I'm painting, I agree that there is nothing better than working from life.

Thanks for commenting!

Ian Hudson from Sheffield, England on January 18, 2011:

This Hub is great. Life drawing is necessary in art as far as I am concerned. Why would art schools all over the world still teach the method if it was not important?

With practice and using different mediums artists learn how to actually look at a subject. This is the best way to learn how to get your proportions and tones correct. Copying from photographs is a poor substitute as the camera looses so much detail and colours, you also loose natural 3D form.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on August 30, 2010:

Hi Rich Del, thank you for your kind comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

Rich Del on August 29, 2010:

I just found this site. It is varied and artistic and I hope to see more interest in it. Richard

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 30, 2010:

Hi Jack, from a purely personal viewpoint, I've found life drawing to be a really useful experience. Drawing any object, not just the human form, from life, allows you to make observations that are not available to you when copying from a photograph, or somebody elses work. Of course there is no right way or wrong way in art. Just personal preference.

jack on July 27, 2010:

I don't believe it is necessary to draw from actual nudes to improve drawing skills. There are many stock photographs of people of all ages and physical maturies to draw from. I believe that if some of the well paid artists can copy off another persons work then so can I. It is kind of like drawing lighthouses, you don't have to be their to draw them well. Just copy off other peoples work.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on February 08, 2010:

Hi Cheeky Girl, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I go to a lot of galleries too, and it's amazing the diversity of art that's out there these days.

Cassandra Mantis from UK and Nerujenia on February 07, 2010:

This is a great cllection of brilliant art. I truly wish I could paint. I go to a lot of art galleries and admire the art with friends. Great hub!

sell paintings on November 15, 2009:

Love the subject of this hub Amanda. Thank you for shearing your knowledge.

mujahidmamun on August 08, 2009:

Thanks cgull. I've never thought of selling on the net, but it's worth a shot!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on August 01, 2009:

Thanks for stopping by Danton. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

Danton Young on July 27, 2009:

Love the images. Cool hub.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on June 19, 2009:

Me too. In fact I might go back and do some more in September. You can't beat life classes for giving a good understanding of the human form. I have a portfolio case stuffed with life studies under my bed, and one of these days I might just frame a few and put them on the walls!

knell63 from Umbria, Italy on June 19, 2009:

Ahh life classes, I remember the embarassment of my first, in art college at the age of seventeen. And being even more shocked seeing the lovely lady a few days later clothed in Tesco's where I had a saturday job. By the end of the year though I had drawn so many that it was like painting still life bowls of fruit, curvy with smooth, wrinkled or orange peel pitted skins. Loved them all.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 04, 2009:

Hi Elena,

Thanks for stopping by, and also thanks for the suggestions. They are good choices, and Chris A has both of these on his nude art hub. I like the Naked Maja. She always looks so smug about having everything on display. She almost looks as though she should be winking!

Elena. from Madrid on January 04, 2009:

Hi Amanda!

Very pretty!  Thinking of nudes, I'm usually reminded of 'The Nude Maja' by Goya and 'Les Damoiselles D'Avignon' by Picasso.  Maybe they are a bit overexposed, too, like Chris mentioned with Venus de Milo the DaVinci.  Still, they are worth a shot :-)[1]_jpg.jpg

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 02, 2009:

Hi Chris

Yes the Corbet is brilliant and, no doubt, quite titillating! You're right. I haven't been around much lately. The kids are home from school until the 5th, so I'm busy with them, and I've also had more work on lately, which all things considered, can't be bad!

Christmas and New Year were a lot of fun. It was lovely when the children were smaller, but now they're a little more independent it's not quite so tiring, and we have a great time with them. I hope things are going well for you too, and I wish you all the best for 2009!

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on January 02, 2009:

Once again, you've selected some fabulous art! I have to go with the Courbet! (I know...typical male!) Really, I like them all, but of course Venus de Milo and the DaVinci are overexposed, to make a pun. I've seen them so much, they stand on their own and I have trouble looking at them comparatively.

I haven't seen you around lately, but then I have not been here so much either. Hope you had a great New Years Eve and an even better New Year!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 15, 2008:

Hi Denny,

The Ingres is a fabulous painting. He and David both had a very distictive style, and their paintings never fail to impress. The only thing that always concerns me with La Grande Odalisque is the length of her back. It always seems too long , but perhaps that's just me. Whatever, it's certainly beautiful!

Denny Lyon from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA on December 14, 2008:

Wonderful hub - again! A well done nude is really something. I still remember your first photo when that exhibition came to our musuem in Atlanta, Georgia, USA - was a docent at the time. It was an awesome collection! Too bad Hubpages didn't have a better viewing like a gallery for fine art, oh well... thanks!

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on December 14, 2008:

Wow this is great, I just published a hub on nude paintings of the female form and I realized the only thing we have in common is the one by Ingres although i originally missed out on the Grande Odalisque until somebody came looking for it! Haha how could I have forgotten her! Great hub! :D

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 11, 2008:

Thanks cgull. I've never thought of selling on the net, but it's worth a shot!

cgull8m from North Carolina on December 11, 2008:

Hello Amanda post your paintings here, we would love to see it. You can try to sell them at, there are plenty of painters and artists there.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 06, 2008:

Hi Bizzymuse,

thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you feel inspired!

BizzyMuse from Southern California on December 06, 2008:

Wonderful hub! It was nice to take a little break from a busy afternoon and enjoy your words and these beautiful images. Your hub inspired me to get out my easel and paints. Thank you for the inspiration.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 06, 2008:

Me too. It's difficult to know what to do when faced with acts of aggression such as 9/11, but I truly believe that vilolence engenders more violence.

Writer Rider on December 06, 2008:

Actually, that was the painting that I was talking about. Hate war, would do anything to prevent it.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 06, 2008:

Hi Ag

Thanks for the recommendation. She's very lovely. I'm sure Ruskin would have approved! (He liked his ladies 'smooth' apparently!) I have added her above.

Peter from Australia on December 06, 2008:

Hi Amanda some great paintings you have there.

We have quite a famous nude "Chloe", hanging in a Pub in Melbourne you may like to have a look see?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 06, 2008:

If you look on Wiki Commons there's quite a body of his work. His most famous War painting is 'Gassed' which is quite detailed, so probably finished in the studio. I might try and work up a hub about his paintings, because he's one of my favourites!

Writer Rider on December 05, 2008:

I just took a look nonchaloir and, yes, I saw his Lady MacBeth oil painting before. The war painting I saw is more foggy and painted in red and brown with minimal white. Perhaps the red represents blood and the brown represents guilt. I'm not the biggest art connoisseur, but his art looks so real that it seems reflects a realist who saw the world as it was. It's very clean, stunning work.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 05, 2008:

Hi Writer Rider,

I love the Singer Sargent too. He was so gifted. Have you seen any of his water colours? They're quite a contrast to his more polished oil portraits. The work he did as a war artist is mostly in watercolour, and it has such an immediacy about it. He must have just whipped out his colours and worked as fast as he could to get an impression of not only the horror, but also the excitement, and the tension of war.

Writer Rider on December 05, 2008:

Nice paintings. I like John Singer Sargent's "Male Life" the most for its uncanningly subtle yet detailed lines.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 29, 2008:

Hi Joseph

Thanks for stopping by, and glad you enjoyed the hub. I hope to visit America some day and check out some of the great art collections, particularly the Metropolitan. I don't blame you for liking the nudes. They're great to paint and great to look at.

josephdiego from Eastern Long Island , New York on November 29, 2008:

Hi Amanda, Nice Art! I love this stuff.

My uncle has worked in the museum of natural history most of my life as an anthropologist. I also had access to the metropolitan museum of art and many others. I love to walk through Greenwich village and So-ho with so many wonderful art galleries. I was never brought up with any real fine culture but I like what I see. I am also very fond of Nude art. Maybe it’s just the dirty dog in me. I don’t know. My wife and I both agree that one day we will have a nice collection of art, nudes included.

Here is my newest hub, hope you like it..

Thank You .. JosephDiego

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 29, 2008:

I love the Musee d'Orsay too, better than the Louvre in fact. Some of my favourite all-time works are there, including Manet's Olympia, and a really gorgeous painting of oxen by Rosa Bonheur. The little Degas's are beautiful too.

Dave McClure from Worcester, UK on November 29, 2008:

Great collection, Amanda. The Musee d'Orsay is my favourite stopping off point in Paris. Enjoyed reading about your life classes too.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 29, 2008:

Thanks TOF. You're welcome here any time!

The Old Firm from Waikato/Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand on November 28, 2008:

Just passing through, Amanda. I like the hub.


Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 24, 2008:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the excellent recommendation. I have added it above.

Tom rubenoff from United States on November 24, 2008:

It's wonderful to read the stories of the art. One work really captivated me as a very young boy and I hadn't remembered it until now. It was Les Trois Graces by Van Loo. It took me a while to track it down, but I found it here:

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 24, 2008:

Hi Sunforged

Thanks for stopping by. It's amazing just how many artists we have on Hubpages. You're quite right. I hadn't accredied the header picture, but I intend to write a little about it later. I love Ingres' attention to detail, although I always wonder wihether his nudes have longer backs than typical females. What do you think, or is it just me?

sunforged from on November 24, 2008:

Great hub, you captured teh expereince of life drawing very well, I still go every wednesday to a community organized figure drawing class and get many of the same questions from all who know.

I didn't see it referenced so the header art is "la grande odalisque" ingres

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 24, 2008:

Thanks Pam,

I'm glad I'm not the only fan of this particular Klimt. I think it's a bit more obvious than most of his well-known pieces, but I just find it very intriguing. Why did he choose this angle? Why is her hand so claw like?

I've often thought of using some of my work on my hubs, but I'm a total dunce when it comes to new technology, and I still only own a 35mm camera. However, I'm hoping that Santa will be generous this year (LOL!) and treat me to a digital camera, and if so, I'll definitely get some of my art posted!

pgrundy on November 23, 2008:

What a great hub. I really enjoyed the art you feature here--I used to have a print of Klimt's Danae hanging in my livingroom--I loved it--but my eldest daughter was embarassed by it. I still love it.

I enjoy art and used to draw but haven't done any drawing in years. I'm not very good at it, but I used to like drawing cartoons of my family when my kids were little. They loved that. You should post some of YOUR art Amanda! I'd love to see it. Thank you for this hub!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 23, 2008:

Hi Shalini,

Yes, Art is my first love, although I've never managed to earn too much money from it. Glad you enjoyed the paintings. I may add a few more when I have more time. Hope you've had a good Sunday. It's getting on for lunch-time here now, and I must go and get my head round some creating of the culinary kind! (LOL!)

Shalini Kagal from India on November 22, 2008:

Hi Amanda - didn't realise you were an artist - wow!!

Love this collection that you've put together - what a wonderful first read on a Sunday morning - you've made my day, thanks!

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