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.
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