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1 Preface

The Art of the Nude:
Artists Explore the Human Form

John Wilson, Guest Curator
Newport Museum and Art Gallery
July - Sept 2008.


The Art of the Nude

"Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed" | William Blake

"The body always expresses the spirit whose envelope it is. And for him who can see, the nude offers the richest meaning" | Auguste Rodin

"I was trained as a painter. I'm very familiar with the nude body, masculine and feminine. I do, I suppose have a soapbox position, and I want to be certain that the human body is in the center of the frame." | Peter Greenaway, Film- maker.

THE ART OF THE NUDE exhibition explores the artistic genre of the nude in the permanent collections of the Newport Museum and Art Gallery, and was on public display July - September 2008. 

The exhibition made for sensationalist headlines in the UK daily press when it opened in July 2007 as a result of the "Newport Nude" controversy that continues to surround Royal Academy President Sir Gerald Festus Kelly's 1924 study of a nude model in the artist's studio:

  • for the extensive press coverage see news archive 
  • listen to BBC Radio Wales The Newport Nude, which probes the story behind the sensationalist headlines. 

Selections and reflections

A review of the Newport Museum and Art Gallery collections highlights the nude as a lively artistic genre and in our final selection we ended up with a large-scale exhibition of 85 works comprising 28 drawings, 12 prints, 39 paintings and 6 works of sculpture. 

Our selection brings together a diverse body of  works with a lively conception of the subject of the nude, and includes the following prominent artists: 

Auguste Rodin, Henry Gaudier-Brzeska, William Blake, Sir Edward J. Poynter, Sir Gerald Kelly, Sir William Russell Flint R.A, Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Sir William Goscombe John R.A. , Ceri Richards, Merlyn Evans, Thomas Rathmell, Harry HollandAngelica Kauffman R.A, Dame Laura Knight R.A. , Elinor Bellingham-Smith and Gerda Roper.

The genre of the nude provides a fascinating thread through the history of art, and we may reflect upon:

  • art education: the study of the nude formed the basis of the post-Renaissance academic tradition of "Western Art";
  • the modern artist: whilst the departures of modernism and the avant garde likewise saw a persistence of the nude as a vital genre for the artist's exploration. 
  • the nude on the screen: Whither the nude in today's world of CGI and the Internet?  

Representations of the nude

The following three works in the Newport Museum and Art Gallery collections stood out for us as exemplary representations of the nude, providing a point of departure for our enquiry into the genre of the nude and the history of art and art education:

  • Thomas Rathmell, The Picture Wall (1977) | Through the 1960's & '70's Newport College of Art enjoyed an enviable British reputation, wth Thomas Rathmell at the helm as Head of the School of Painting and an academic rigour centred in the life-room that fed a stream of students to the Royal College of Art.
  • Harry Holland, Diane and Actæon (1984) | "This extraordinary classical artist (...) is widely regarded as one of Britain's best craftsmen, producing technically brilliant and very beautiful paintings" (x): internationally renowned for his imaginative exploration of the human figure, Harry Holland is represented by several works in the Newport Museum and Art Gallery collections (- with the following works also included in this exhibition: xxxx - ) and we are espescially pleased that this Cardiff-based based artist was able to accept our invite to open THE ART OF THE NUDE exhibition at Newport Museum and Art Gallery on 18 July 2008.