the NUDE

What is a nude?

In his book “The Nude: a study in ideal form” from 1956, Kenneth Clark writes “being naked is being without clothes. The nude is a form of art”

In episode 2 of his famous TV series ” Ways of Seeing ” from 1972, (available on You Tube) as well as in his book of the same name, John Berger says “to be naked is to be oneself, to be nude is to be SEEN naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself (p.54) “A naked body has to be seen as an object to become a nude”. (…)”Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own body, turned into disguise which, in that situation , can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress”.

There is also a very big gap between the perception of men and women that John Berger talks about.

“Men dream of women, women dream of themselves as being dreamed of. Men look at women.Women watch themselves being looked at.” This is the opening phrase of the TV program . And further : ” a woman is always accompanied by her own image of herself”.

Seeing and reading John Berger’s explanations has altered my view of many paintings and on the nude in European oil painting especially. I think that although I am a woman, I have often admired a nude from the point of view of the (male) spectator, without becoming fully aware of the passivity, of the submission of the model, of the disappearance of the person. It is true, that in the tradition of European oil painting, the female nude is showed reclined, languid , passive and often in an awareness of being seen by the spectator outside of the painting. I am also reminded of how my own perception of beauty is formed by this long history of looking at the nude, mainly the female nude, with it’s changing beauty ideals from this point of the judging viewer.

In the European oil painting, there are a very few exceptions , as John Berger points out (p.57) where artists have painted the women they love, and then break the art form, the nude becoming a love poem to a specific person, where the woman is just more or less naked.

I will here take a look at some of the classical modern nude paintings and then explore some contemporary nudes and how valid this definition seems today.

Kenneth Clark (1956). The Nude: a study in ideal form. Garden City, NY : : Doubleday Anchor Books.

John Berger (1972). Ways of Seeing. England: BBC and Penguin books.

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

When thinking of Edgar Degas , his pastel drawings of ballet dancers come to my mind first, but I am also touched by some of his beautiful nudes, that contrary to the languid models exposing themselves to the viewer in the older European oil paintings, are busy and seem unaware of being observed in intimate moments.

Degas continued drawing nudes all through his life, so used all the different styles and techniques he explored in this genre too, going from complex historical paintings, to series of prostitutes in brothels. But these “naturalist nudes’, where he observes simple daily routines of bathing or combing the hair are the works that I like the most.

Gradually the works became less detailed and more bold in colour experimentation, with unusual angles and light.

Musee-orsayfr. 2017. Musee-orsayfr. [Online]. [4 April 2017]. Available from:

HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)

The innovations that Henri Matisse brought to modern art can be equaled to those of Picasso. He emerged as a post impressionist and then created the art movement Fauvism. He used some elements of Cubism, but it was always color that was the main element of his work.

I just love the vibrant colors and effortless form of Henri Matisses paintings. Instead of using shading or working on depth of  form, he is using contrasting areas of color.

Although the reclining subjects of pink nude and blue nude follow the traditional submissive reclined female nude’s format- there is nothing submissive in these models.

The dance is a dance of joy and color

The sculptural and joyful approach to the human figure culminated in the cut outs that Matisse turned too at the end of his life. Here there is a definite move away from the idealized human figure, rather they become a symbol of the nude.

Henrimatisseorg. 2017. Henrimatisseorg. [Online]. [4 April 2017]. Available from:

Theartstoryorg. 2017. The Art Story. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from:

 EGON SCHIELE (1890 – 1918)

The twisted , gnarly, anguished, passionate drawings of Egon Schiele touch me deeply.

With sparse and at times chaotic marks and unproportionate big hands and heads Egon Schiele’s work has a very personal style. It is a very new and frank depiction of the human body, full of emotion, anxiety, anger, desire, passion. His nudes are raw and sexual, sometimes the models are masturbating.

It is not surprising that he was accused of pornography and arrested at his time.  Egon Schiele lived in Vienna at the beginning of the 19 th Century- as Vienna was the capital of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, and it was a climate of contradictions  between the luxury of high life, high society and the collapse facing World War 1. Gustav Klimt was the most famous painter in Vienna at the time  and a mentor of Schiele’s, the expressionist Oscar Kokoshka another contemporary  and Sigmund Freud leading the intellectual debate.

Egon Schiele was obsessed by himself- creating hundreds of self- portraits that I will look at again in the portrait section. He also drew himself nude , and masturbating- a stark frankness.

He was also obsessed by the body, by sex, by death. After a passionate love affair with  his model Waly, that lasted for 4 years, he paints the masterpiece “Death and the Maiden” 1915- the death of a love affair as Egon Schiele moves on to marry another woman- and the death of Europe – World War 1. He is himself the model for Death , and Waly the Maiden.


Looking at the drawings again, I am drawn to the twisted, torn, tense and bony bodies. I admire the sparse marks and how many parts of the drawing are left unfinished. Often the face and hands are detailed and the rest of the figures are left unfinished, although often intricate eyecatching patterns are part of the drawings. Face-hands-patterns. There is often a combination of coloured parts and uncoloured as well, that I would like to explore.

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

I took a closer look at Pablo Picasso’s portraits for the visit of his exhibition at the National Art Gallery in London in a separate post.

The nude was also a theme that recurred in every phase of Picasso’s  artistic development.

I especially like this very well known “Blue Nude” from 1902, a very simple composition and pose, painted in only one colour and still expressing so much :


“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” from 1907 is the most famous example of cubist painting:

avignonThe bodies are distorted and formed by unexpected geometric shapes, a new way of seeing! This is far from the traditional beauty ideals of the female body, but at the same time , thinking of John Berger’s ways of seeing, here is still the traditional exposure of the female body, the look to the viewer.

In “Woman in an arm chair” from 1929, the human figure has become even more surrealist, with organic, melting shapes. This may be another masterpiece, but I find it disturbing ugly.


Pablopicassoorg. 2017. Pablopicassoorg. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from:


The Italian artist Amedeo Modigliano  painted faces and figures that are elongated and flat. He painted many reclining nudes, in a very classical pose, but with that modern flat take.

He modernized the view of many traditional classical paintings. This painting, “standing blonde nude with dropped chemise” from 1917 is referring to Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, but in a modern way, and instead of hiding the sex, the composition is drawing our attention to it in a rather provocative way.


Theartstoryorg. 2017. The Art Story. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from:

EUAN UGLOW  (1932-2000)

The British painter Euan Uglow painted nudes in  sparse bare settings. They appear almost sculptural with patches of colour that make the flesh seem chiseled from stone.

Nude 1962-3 Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1964
Zagi 1981-2 Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Purchased 1982
Uglow, Euan; Gyroscope Nude; The Hepworth Wakefield;

I have read that Uglow painted very slowly and took very careful and slow measurements which are still visible on the canvas, but the final painting is not so detailed , it still has a roughness that appeals to me. I also like the simple interaction of the models with their environment.

Tate. 2017. Tate. [Online]. [3 April 2017]. Available from:

Artukorg. 2017. Artukorg. [Online]. [3 April 2017]. Available from:


I have written more about Jenny Saville’s approach to the nude as “a contemporary landscape of the body” in the section “Foreshortening”, but here I want to take another look at her work “the Mirror”.


This painting is the history of the reclining nude reflecting itself.    In a conversation for the opening of her exhibition in 2012 at the TATE Modern ( Jenny says:

“The nude is a very difficult language to meet today, because you read every nude , with all the other nudes that you have seen, and all the ones that you have made and all the ones that exist in art history. So instead of trying to make a new one, I just brought them all in. It was working with Picasso, with Manet..”

“I don’t have a very scholarly view of art history- I am more a scavenger- I take bits here and there. You are constantly stealing anyway.”

Besides really liking Jenny Saville’s paintings and the many layers and simultaneous stories of her drawings, I admire this bold borrowing from the masters of Modern Art, and the ease with which Jenny places herself in their lineage.


I came across the beautiful book ” Exercisios de delicada Intimidade” (Exercises in delicate intimacy), with drawings and paintings from contemporary Portuguese artist Jose Rodrigues.

He treats a wide range of themes from mythology and religion through figure drawings, but also personal experiences, like studying the pubic hair of his lover.  But although the themes vary greatly,  his style of roughly drawn outlines and unfinished details , sometimes combined with an element of collage, is consistent.

I keep being drawn to works with this rougher or unfinished style and really want to learn how to stop polishing everything too much 🙂

Jose rodrigues (2012). Exercisios de delicada intimidade. Porto: Bial.



The American artist John Currin is pushing the controversy or the dialogue around the female nude to a peak with his provocative art.

“Consistent throughout his oeuvre is his search for the point at which the beautiful and the grotesque are held in perfect balance.”

He is a master of classical technique, but then uses pin up pictures and expressively provocative sexual poses and symbols to chock.

I am not particulary attracted to John Currin’s paintings, but find it interesting to note that they are at a peak of popularity now, selling at enormous sums and appearing at exhibitions around the world.

I have written about Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois and Anthony Gormley‘s work in a separate post called “Emotions, memories , dreams” as they are all working mainly with their own bodies in different ways, but their approach is exploring being in the body as a personal experience and not exploring the nude in the sense of the artists I have written about here.




The Sibyl’s gaze, Museu do Oriente

Today I visited the exhibition “the Sibyl’s gaze” at the Museu do Oriente in Lisbon. The theme of the exhibition is the transformation of the body, with the figure of Sibyl as a metaphor therefor. The exhibition has been created by 6 different art institutions coming together and unites works in many different media- drawing, painting, sculpture, installations, video work and written word. It is widely advertised all over town.

I guess my expectations were too high, especially as it seemed to fit my studies of the human figure so perfectly, so I was very disappointed at the exhibition.

First of all I had a really hard time finding a connection between the theme and most of the art. I guess “transformation of the body” does not have to mean the human body, at least not in any recognizable form.

Here I will write about a few works that deal with the human figure, as that is what interested me.


These drawings in oil pastel and graphite on paper are by Portuguese artist Joana Villaverde. I do not really appreciate how abruptly they end and the limbs missing, but a good reminder to explore the “unfinished drawing”. Despite always liking an unfinished element , I always fiddle too much and finish my own drawings.


This is a cloth sculpture called “when you wish upon a star” by Joao Pedro Vale, the nose of the figure continuing into this mass, Pinocchios lies neverending maybe.

Two small oil paintings by Vieira da Silva, the right one a self portrait of the artist. I was happy to see these paintings here as Vieira da Silva is an artist I have been wanting to discover for a while. I will look closer at her work in the portrait part of the course.


This oil painting called “Heaven” by artist Gemuce from Mocambique touched me. There is such a contrast between the heaviness I associate with the burkha and the lightness of the sky and the movement of the figure on the swing. The pose is still contained and careful, but there is the flying sensation of being weightless too.


This photograph on a light box by young Portuguese artist Rita GT is a strong image too. All the focus of the image is led to the centre, between the legs of the model where she is collecting wrapped candies. An image that can tell many different stories.

Lastly I include this painting, as it was the most clearly dealing with the theme of transformation, although I am not sure about the body here- it looks like a beast or maybe a Kafka transformation, but I guess that can open up a lot of musings about what the body is and means…..



The moving figure


The British artist Anthony Gormley is primarily known for his sculptures and large installations, but I first came across his drawings while visiting the National Portrait Gallery in London – “Fall”, a series of 9 drawings of a falling body.

Every drawing is a solitary figure  in a void. This is a theme recurring in Gormley’s work- here from the series “the Grid” 2016:


Or from the series “Body and Light” , ink drawings on wet ground:

In stead of placing the figure in recognizable surroundings, Gormley explores the human body in a void- questioning the relationship between the body we occupy and the space around it. All through his career , Anthony Gormley has been exploring this theme of the experience of occupying a human body. He uses his own body for casts for his sculptures.

I feel inspired to experiment with wet paper and human form and also to explore what difference it makes to leave the scribbled figures floating in space versus giving them somewhere to stand or something to hold on to.

Antonygormleycom. 2017. Antonygormleycom. [Online]. [23 January 2017]. Available from:


Richard Hambleton was born in Canada but relocated to New York in the 1970’s. He became known as “the Godfather of street art” with his series of graffitti “Shadows” all over New York in the 1980’s.

Since then his paintings have been presented in galleries and museums with more than man sized shadow figures. I love the energy and spontaneous expression of these figures and can imagine the impressive effect when seeing them larger than man.

I love the way he can express a precise movement and even expression with only a shadow, a blur or dot of black paint. His brushstrokes seem as fast as the moving figures he captures.

I just now discovered that he even paints portraits in the same manner, including colour or gold dust.

There is definitely an “a la Richard Hambleton” experiment coming up in my “Sketchbook section” now.



David Haines is a British contemporary artist making videos and hyper realistic drawings in pencil on paper. I can just marvel at the skill and draughtmanship here. David Haines seems to catch a glimpse of a brief moment, a quick movement and moment in time, but renders it with such precision and detail, that it is a very slow process. I just read in an interview with the artist in the magazine “mimik”, that he spent a whole year on the giant pencil drawing “Radiant bodies” for example.

index a

David Haines collects various images mainly relating to a street and gay culture , and then reinterprets them in his own specific image language – “the drawings are not protests but they seek to create a new visual vocabulary”.

Sneakers and anatomical hearts appear in many of his works


Fascinating detail and drawing skills, but I feel personally less touched by these hyper realistic drawings than the quick splattered movements by Richard Hambleton.

Mimikmagazinecom. 2017. Mimik Magazine. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:

Davidhainesorg. 2017. Davidhainesorg. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:

 EMMA TALBOT b. 1969
I discovered the British artist Emma Talbot in the beautiful book “Drawing people- the human figure in contemporary art” by Roger Malbert. At a first glimpse, I could have turned over the page and seen her watercolour drawings as cartoon like and light, but I found myself drawn to looking at them over and over again.
The drawings can be read as a diary, or as an imaginary diary of the same figure without facial features. They are like glimpses of a short mundane moment-like washing the clothes in a sink, or walking up the stairs.
Some drawings are complex stories interwoven in a intricate pattern
There is an underlying atmosphere of threat and sadness. I find myself a little surprised at how touched I am by these series of drawings.
Malbert, Roger (2016). Drawing people, the human figure in contemporary art. England: Thames & Hudson.
Emmatalbotorguk. 2017. Emmatalbotorguk. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:



American dancer and artist Heather Hansen presents another perspective on “the figure in movement”- her own movements creating patterns on a huge paper she dances on with charcoal in her hands.

I am particularly attracted to this right now as my own movements are restricted due to medical condition, and I am usually a person with a regular dynamic yoga practice. I can’t wait to be able to move my arms freely again and try this out.

Heatherhansennet. 2017. Heatherhansennet. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:



The underlying structure of the body

LEONARDO da VINCI (1452-1519)

Leonardo da Vincis’ unsatiable curiosity about how the human body functions and his research into anatomy that he documented with hundreds of pages of precise sketches and descriptions have been an invaluable source of information for art history and science ever since.


He was the first known scientist going as far as to dissect the human body to draw what he discovered inside. I find his anatomical drawings mesmerizing by the passion for knowledge and detail that shines through them.


I came across the American contemporary artist Laura Ferguson through a fellow student’s blog- and am so happy I did! I love the multi-layered drawings combining a dreamlike, emotional drawing of the body in combination with the accuracy of the underlying anatomy – the skeleton or soft tissues drawn in precise detail.

“Art creates a different vision of the inner body: one that is personal  rather than medical (though still anatomically accurate), and more reflective of our experience of the bodies we inhabit.” “Drawing myself, I could work from the inside out. ”

To keep it real, Laura draws in the Lab of the NYU School of Medicine with actual dissections, or from various medical imagery and Xrays of herself.  I find her work fascinating with this very personal emotional expression combined with a scientific approach.

Laurafergusonnet. 2017. Laurafergusonnet. [Online]. [25 March 2017]. Available from:

When searching for more art involving X-Rays , I discovered that there is a whole art movement around this, since the beginning of the 20 th century when X-rays started to be used. Flowers and other botanical specimens seem to have been the main subjects, but some more contemporary artists have explored the human body as well.


Nick Veasey is a Bristish contemporary artist working only with Xrays. For some images he uses the huge Xray machines at  borders to produce pictures of vehicles, then he Xrays his skeleton Frida in various poses to complete the images.

His newest project is about superheroes, and what is under the skin of the superhero.

This is how Nick Veasey describes his art:

“I like to challenge this automatic way that we react to just physical appearance by highlighting the, often surprising, inner beauty.”

“By revealing the inside, the quintessential element of my art speculates upon what the manufactured and natural world really consists of.”

I think it is an interesting query, but do not feel that the images answer it. To me they are too simple in a way, without any added emotion or message. They are often humorous, but then I react to that as to just another physical appearance.

Nickveaseycom. 2017. Nickveaseycom. [Online]. [25 March 2017]. Available from:


Hugh Turvey is a British contemporary artist who has worked with Xrays for over 20 years. He uses many objects, many flowers, and sometimes the human form.

Some of his huge installations of colorful XRays of flower details are beautiful;


And other Xray pictures humorous, like “the Fan” with a football shaped brain.

Although funny and colourful , these art works too lack something more personal or a deeper layer that I found in for example Laura Fergusons work.

Hugh turvey, . 2017. XOGRAM. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:



The yound Polish artist Ada Dobrzelecka shows many layers of  the human body in her oil paintings. At first glimpse I thought she used Xrays too, that she painted over, but looking more closely, I believe her paintings to be all in oil.

The earlier works are rather nightmarish, with cold colours, scared expressions and the many different layers of the face and body creating a scary image.

Her later works from the series “my Inner Garden” are more poetical, with flowers and softer colours, although the many layers are still visible.

I feel pulled in and intrigued by the many layers of stories happening in these paintings.

I can feel that place of anguish and also curiosity at what is underlying our surface. Also I just tried myself to draw on XRays ( and posted the drawings in the “Sketchbook 4 continued” post) and it all became rather nightmarish and full of anguish as well.

Ada dobrzelecka. 2017. Ada Dobrrzelecka. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:

Saatchiartcom. 2017. Saatchi Art. [Online]. [1 April 2017]. Available from:



The definition of foreshortening according to the TATE Glossary of Art terms  (Tateorguk, 2017):

“Foreshortening refers to the technique of depicting an object or human body in a picture so as to produce an illusion of projection or extension in space”


(Born in 1970, Cambridge, England)

Jenny Saville is the first artist that comes to mind when thinking of figure drawing and foreshortening. Her large scale paintings of massive human bodies use foreshortening to the extreme. The angles of the models allow her to lead  our gaze from one body part to the other, like here from the penis to the stomach, to the breasts in the transvestite, or around the surgeons marks on the right image.

The formats are massive, and the figures are massive, continuing far over the borders of the canvas.

The human flesh is overwhelmingly dominant and has an almost tactile character. According to an interview with Simon Schama for the Saatchi Gallery, Jenny Saville is looking for “a contemporary architeture of the body” and it is true that I feel like I am looking at monuments or landscape of the human here.

Gagosiancom. 2017. Gagosiancom. [Online]. [29 January 2017]. Available from:

Saatchi gallery. 2017. Saatchigallerycom. [Online]. [29 January 2017]. Available from:

Tateorguk. 2017. Tateorguk. [Online]. [29 January 2017]. Available from:



The figure- emotions

The research for Part 4 – the figure and the head- can be divided into different categories as suggested: The nude, the moving figure, underlying structure of the body, foreshortening and then the face and self-portrait. But I came across a few artists that use the human figure primarily to express different emotions and stories, and who don’t really fit into any of the above categories- so I chose to study them here under a chapter just called “emotions”.


While visiting the Tate Modern, I visited an “artist room” dedicated to the French artist Louise Bourgeois. The room contained several hanging cloth figures and huge series of etchings with various media on paper.

The etchings are in red colours with parts of human figures and snakelike forms, reminiscent of umbilical cords or blood arteries. There is definitely flesh and organs and something disturbingly raw and human here in the juxtaposition of different bits and pieces.

The second series with the hands explores her collaboration with her assistant through their hands.

Louise Bourgeois is exploring primal human emotions, like fear, rage ,sexuality, jealousy   through her work. She looks at dreams and childhood memories, it is a sort of visual psychoanalysis.

I found these illustrations in the beautiful book Drawing People by Roger Malvert


These are watercolours, in the same red. I am really touched by these drawings  – so little detail, so little information and yet so much to be felt and seen.

Above photographs mine from the exhibition, the watercolors from Malvert (no date). Drawing People, the human figure in contemporary art: Thames &Hudson.


TOMOKO KASHIKI (b. 1982 Kyoto, Japan)

The young Japanese artist Tomoko Kashiki is inspired by the traditional Japanese Bijinga paintings, but although that style and Japanese surroundings and patterns are still clearly visible, Tomoko’s paintings bring us into a dreamlike space.

She paints only a solitary woman, or rather a girl-woman with elongated sinous limbs in a crouching, curled up or strangely suspended position. There is a sense of dream, of mystery.

Often water is present, creating a flowing, mirroring, layering atmosphere with the bodies merging or dissolving into the space.

There is something so fragile and beautiful in these paintings. I love the merging of figure and dream, the many layers of stories and realities.

Otafineartscom. 2017. Otafineartscom. [Online]. [23 January 2017]. Available from:

 TRACEY EMIN (b. 1963, UK)

There was a discussion on the OCA Drawing student thread , if Tracey Emin can draw and if she would pass assessment of Drawing 1. This made me very curious to look closer at the work of this controversial artist, who installed her dirty bed as an art work in Tate Britain.


Previously, I have not felt drawn to any of her art and the grand exhibition of Tracey Emins work along side with Egon Schiele’s in the Leopold Museum in Vienna left me feeling slightly irritated, as I really admire Egon Schiele’s work.

Now I watched several Youtube videos ( “What do artists do all day”,” Tracey Emin in Confidence”, and her “Talk at MCA”, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia) and I have come to a whole new understanding and appreciation of her work.

She counters the question if she can draw with – ” I spent 7 years learning how to draw” and repeats “I am an artist” often. Her work is based on her own life experiences , with sexual abuse  and abortions and about being a woman. “My work isn’t about art, its about a life experience, about living.” “If I feel something, I make work about it”.  ” Art mustn’t be fake, you have to feel something” And others will share the same feelings, also the same life experiences, loss, abuse, hurt, anxiety.

“I didn’t have children, I have art. The only children I could have had are the abortions I had. My children hang on the walls of Tate Britain”.


Her art is often referred to as autobiographical , or confessional . But “Drawing is not like a diary, it’s more like a system of thought”.”It’s my language, I invented it, it’s like a scientist or an inventor- you have to crack a code.” This was a crucial moment for me in understanding her work. It is not about pouring out your feelings while smearing media, it is about cracking that very special code you have been given as an artist.

“People often ask me why I don’t draw faces in, and its’ because it’s really not important if it is me, it’s the woman that is important and i am so lucky I have a very good subject matter  (…) I can use myself- I am my first muse and my first model”

“I am sitting in my studio in London feeling depressed, feeling so far from nature and then I realize- I am not! I AM nature. That’s why great artists painted women, men , self portraits, because they were trying to get INTO the nature of themselves and understand what it is to be part of this world, and that is the job of the artist- to be working WITH the world.” Her backgrounds with soft pinks or ochre tones, that could be taken for bodyparts, are elements of nature- volcanoes, mountains, grottoes.

I tried drawing in Traceys Emin’s “code”- which definitely opened up a new level of understanding for her work and I believe really helped me loosening up in figure drawing as well.  The drawings are posted in the Sketchbook 4 section. I feel grateful for all the ideas and insights that came with exploring this artist. I am still not in awe of the work, it is still not a language that speaks to me like for example Egon Schiele’s art, but I feel a new respect and curiosity for it.


Fireley Baez is a young artist from the Dominican Republic who lives and works in New York. I really like the way she includes feathers and patterns, leaves and symbols into her drawings of the figure. For her this is a way to explore stories around ancestry and cultural identity.

I feel very drawn to explore using patterns and the human figure to tell stories too, this is something I would very much like to look in to more in my own drawing.

Gallerywendinorriscom. 2016. Gallery Wendi Norris. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available


Jose de Almada Negreiros

Jose de Almada Negreiros ( 1893- 1970)- ” A Way of being Modern”

Today I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful exhibition called ” A Way of being Modern” by the Portuguese artist Jose de Almada Negreiros at the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation in Lisbon.


I was discovering this artist for the first time, but Almada is one of the most famous Portuguese artists and is considered the main catalyst for the artistic avantgarde of the 20 th Century here, so the exhibition was incredibly well visited!



This is the most well known painting by Almada- a portrait of the writer Fernando Pessoa. There are in fact two of the portraits, mirrored, as a copy was commissioned and Almada chose to paint the second one mirrored and slightly bigger.


The writer Fernando Pessoa was himself an icon of modernity. The name of the exhibition ties into  the French poet Rimbauds motto from 1873- “one must be absolutely modern”. Almada followed this to the letter, stating that it is the artists responsability to make modernity happen. He was not only creating art, but a network of artists and architects, filmakers and writers, working  across all disciplines. He was himself an autodidact working as a painter, writer, creating tapestries, glass windows, articles, movie scripts, scene decorations, tile designs and many of his public works are still to be seen all around Lisbon.

I realized that I was driving past one of his huge murals  almost daily while here -on the building of the daily newspaper Diario das Noticias .

“Almada’s autodidactic research sought a universal and intemporal language common to all visual language and prior to words- with a focus on two-dimensional geometry, in particular the relationship between circle and square.” (exhibition panel)

The exhibition showed many of these abstract paintings, or research between the human figure and the abstract form like below. This was an interesting way of looking at the human figure.

Some of the drawings and paintings from the 1940’s made me think of Picasso, by this approach to the human form with geometrical shapes:img_4802

Of the incredible amount of art works on display here I found the vast series of self portraits the most interesting. Although most were in graphite on paper, there was an incredible and inspiring amount of different styles and approaches to the self portrait- all with the eyes as the exaggerated main focus.

This is a three dimensional version with the eyes and eyelashes in wire standing out from the canvas- a fun idea.img_4786This is a self portrait with Alamada’s wife in oil- an interesting difference in sizes, that reappeared in other whole figure paintings of the couple.


I particularly liked these two tender simple portraits in graphite with a beautiful range of tones of grey and soft expressions:

Almada, like Picasso and other artists of their time, had a period painting the Saltimbanco- street artists and acrobats, and being fascinated by the circus. I enjoyed looking at the expanded possibilities of seeing the human figures and picked up some ideas about varying the shape of the canvas, but in all this was a whole room of paintings that did not really appeal to me as much as the subtler graphite works.

I felt especially touched by this small ink drawing that looked a little lost among all the more expressive works:

img_4877I love how the figure is just hinted at and stands out from  the flowers in the background. This is something I want to draw! Detailed vegetation or a pattern in the background and the transparent elusive figure .

Thinking of the dynamic figure drawing exercises coming up soon- i took a closer look at these ink drawings of couples- the fluid merging forms creating a single dynamic pose:

All in all this exhibition was a very rich and inspiring experience and I am so happy to learn some more about Portuguese artists, as I am spending more time in this beautiful country now. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how very popular and well visited an exhibition like this is, although it did make seeing some works a little difficult.