The Bride Stripped Bare by Janet Hobhouse; The Nude: A New Perspective by Gill Saunders - review by Marina Warner

Marina Warner

Emperor’s New Clothes

The Bride Stripped Bare

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Jonathan Cape 288pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Nude: A New Perspective

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The Herbert Press 144pp £16.95 order from our bookshop
 

The Surrealist Georges Hugnet once commented that 'Animals are beautiful because they are naked - on the inside too.' He might have said the same about nakedness in art, for the fascination the nude exerts depends on its laying bare more than skin and bone; or, to put it another way, a nude pictures the flesh so that it fills with meaning, becomes beautiful. Both these books are richly illustrated: bodies fat and thin, old and young, remote and intimate, in full colour and in black and white, stand or lie or struggle or luxuriate on the pages as if on so many beds or couches. Gill Saunders's essay examines representations of men as well as women; her book accompanies the current exhibition 'The Nude' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and includes prints, drawings, and paintings from the Middle Ages to the present day, as well as contemporary artists' mixed media works. In Hobhouse, attention to the male imagination saturates the text, but the male is absent as image, with the exception of Bonnard's effaced reflection in a mirror as he paints Marthe bathing, and Egon Schiele's portraits of himself as erotic martyr.

In The Bride Stripped Bare, the interior meaning of nakedness - the beautiful naked creature inside - consists in the personal drama between the artist and his model. Janet Hobhouse is a novelist as well as an art critic, and when she looks at artists' nudes this century, she deciphers

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