Painting Nudes and Women  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Painting Nudes and Women is the second installment of John Berger's television documentary Ways of Seeing. In it, John Berger, discusses the female nude in oil painting.

"Men dream of women. Women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." ... "Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors reminding them of how they look or how they should look."
"To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one's own skin, the hairs of one's body turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked." [see nude and naked]

He starts with a discussion on the male gaze and the female gaze, moves to the difference between nakedness and nudity by KC and then adds his own sauce of sexual objectification. He says the nude in art he considers (the modern nude up to Manet's Olympia is different from the archaic nude, by which he means the nude in ancient erotica) The story begins with Adam and Eve he says and shows a painting by the Limbourgs of the expulsion.

His main argument is that women are painted as an ideal beauty and not as themselves, in the thousands of oil paintings of nude women there are perhaps 20 or 30 exceptions he says. As proof of this erotic realism, he shows Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap by Rubens, the Bathsheba at Her Bath by Rembrandt and Woman with a Flea by Georges de La Tour.

He then moves to Charles II of England secret painting of his mistress Nell Gwyn by Peter Lely.

Lastly, a number of women are interviewed on the material brought forward by Berger. A final comment by an interviewee praised the "peace woman" in Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Government[1].

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