Nude in art

A collection of the Tate’s most iconic nudes of the past two centuries comes to Sydney this summer.

Perhaps we should add ‘surgeons’ to Isadora Duncan’s list above, as nudity or nakedness is the ultimate display of many cosmetic surgeons’ work. In fact, the similarities between cosmetic surgery and art have long been discussed and as Edward Bulwar-Lytton said ‘art and science have their meeting point in method’.

No matter your view, nudity in art dates back to the earliest of times and has gone through many interpretations along the way. From being considered depictions of perfect symmetry in SID58818_Modigliani_1024px.jpg.2000x1000ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, nudes have also shocked and offended decency and in 1563 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent ruled that ‘all lasciviousness be avoided’ in religious images ‘in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust’, and so the strategically placed fig-leaf was born.

In Britain there was extensive discussion of appropriate and inappropriate representation of the female nude in the Victorian period, and in the 1860s the category of the classical nude began to emerge.

No matter the times, nudes always invoke strong responses from the viewers. In Australia in 2008, Bill Henson’s display of nude images of children was closed and the images seized by the police, and in Copenhagen in 2015 a photography exhibition of nude women to combat negative self-image was also closed down by police.

While the nude is a contested category, just last year nudes by Picasso and Modigliani became the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction.

This summer Nude: Art from the Tate Collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales tells the story of the nude through more than 100 powerful artworks spanning two centuries, as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2016-2017.

According to Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, the nude is a genre that has been continually reinvented to address contemporary social, political and aesthetic concerns.

Many of the works, loaned from the distinguished collection of the Tate, London will be exhibited in Australia for the first time – including one of the world’s most iconic expressions of erotic love, Rodin’s marble sculpture The kiss (1904). Other renowned works include Picasso’s Nude woman in a red armchair (1932) and Bonnard’s The bath (1925).


The exhibition offers a compelling journey through many major art movements, including romanticism, cubism, expressionism, realism, surrealism and feminism. The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers, curator of modern British art at Tate, and Justin Paton, head curator of international art at the Art Gallery of NSW.

“The show is a survey of extraordinary artists, major art movements, and many remarkable social changes. But above all it is a chance to encounter compelling artworks up close and in the flesh – to experience each artwork’s distinctive ‘body language’ and see how we respond,” says Paton.

“The nude has changed radically across the past 200 years. But it has also remained a subject of constant interest for artists and viewers — because every one of us has a body. In that sense, it is an exhibition about who we are and how we see ourselves,” he adds.


The evolution of the nude in Western art is a story of beauty and desire, eroticism and tenderness, as well as scandal. From the history paintings of the 19th century to the body politics of contemporary art, this thoughtful collection brings together the works of renowned artists who have depicted the naked body, including JMW Turner, Sir Hamo Thornycroft, Auguste Rodin, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Louise Bourgeois, Barkley Hendricks, Rineke Dijkstra, John Currin, Sarah Lucas and Ron Mueck. This iconic collection is essential viewing, bringing a mini Tate to Sydney.

5 November 2016 – February 2017
Major exhibition gallery, $18 member,
$24 adult, $21 concession