“All good art is an indiscretion.”*
As a kid it was my mom who explained the artistic nude to me, as perfected by Peter Paul Rubens. She owned a huge tome of his paintings, and together we flipped through the pages of rosy-cheeked, fleshy women and talked about the notion of beauty.
“You see, Wendy, I’m a Rubenesque nude. I was born at the wrong time, that’s all,” my mother said.
(pictured, Das Pelzchen, 1638, a portrait of his young bride by Peter Paul Rubens)
The nude ideal today, unless your name is Botero, is anything but fleshy, in a society so inundated with the skeletal female form that to post an example here would be redundant. (pictured, Eve by Fernando Botero, 1989)
However, since the beginning of art history, the ample woman sent artists running to their easels (or chisels, as the case may be), recalling the Venus of Willendorf (22,000 B.C., pictured below), the ancient subject of the first day of my first college art history class and, since her discovery in 1908, a source of endless debate:
She’s a symbol of motherhood! Fertility personified! A typical female beauty! A child’s toy! Grotesque! A goddess!
It was another fleshy female, as portrayed by Gustav Klimt in his unfinished painting Adam and Eve, that lured me dozens of times over eight months in 1988 to the museum at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria. I saw something in this near life-size work that transported me to another time, or rather, another person, connecting me to something beyond paint on canvas, including a female ideal that transcended the latest issue of Vogue, along with a connection between artist and model, a zone so comfortable even then, that I wondered if it just might be my destiny. (pictured, Adam and Eve, 1916, by Gustav Klimt)
And then I met George Rodrigue, a modern artist clinging to classical ideals of beauty. Early in our relationship the hopeful muse inside of me swooned (and blushed) when he observed,
“You remind me of a Valadié painting.”
(pictured, L’ile aux Femmes (Island Women), 1971 by Jean-Baptiste Valadié, a painting from our collection)
George’s ideal is somewhere in between the skeletal and the fleshy. He’s never been a fan of bones, preferring not quite the Rubenesque curves, but nonetheless the opportunity for longer, rounded strokes and broad areas of shape. (pictured, a five-foot Rodrigue sketch on canvas using red acrylic paint, from 2001)
Finally, I share with you another work from our collection, a lithograph from 1936 by the Surrealist artist Rene Magritte of his friend, poet Paul Eluard (who was first married, incidentally, to Salvador Dali’s famous model and wife, Gala). Along with a photograph of Tennessee Williams and a postcard of Klimt’s Adam and Eve, this indiscreet image featuring the French word écrire (write), hangs in my office for inspiration.
*”All art is an indiscretion.” –Tennessee Williams, from his memoirs