Exposed or Overexposed: The English Model from Walter Sickert to Lucien Freud.
“When I became more painted against than painting, I decided to be as Sistine as hell. I climbed up the walls; I rolled on the floor; I hung from the beams; I held chairs over my head. The students were furious. Gradually I became aware that I was not posing for the pupils; I was working for the teachers.” Quentin Crisp.1
In order to “work for the teachers” Crisp – of “naked civil servant” fame- had to submerge his identity; his individualism could not be accommodated within an academic situation. Crisp’s complaint lays bare- no pun intended- the frustrations a working model had to endure when posing for art students. This tension is partly what underscores the distinction – made by Walter Sickert (above) (1860-1942)- between “nude” and “naked.” The nude, recalling the subtitle of the most famous book ever written on the subject- Kenneth Clark’s The Nude- was “a study in ideal form,” but how could that idealisation fit into the realism movement in England where there was a marked turn against the nude in favour of the naked.2 In 1910 Walter Sickert had lashed out at art schools in an article3 condemning schools for teaching students how to paint “abstracted ‘nudes’ rather than real naked figures in actual situations,” (Vaughan). Sickert’s intervention can be seen as spearheading a reaction against the academic nude; it would result in scores of British painters from Spencer through the Euston Road School (e.g. Coldstream, Passmore) and on to Hockney and Freud. Perhaps the most anti-nude approach to the model was Spencer (1891-1959) - another Slade prodigy- whose figurative art stood for a kind of domesticated “aesthetic modernism” rather the avant-garde of cubism abroad. Rejecting professional models, Spencer chose people he was intimate with like Patricia Preece painting her with a frankness that was completely at odds with the school system and which may have owned something- as Vaughn suggests, to the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement in Germany.4
1Postle and Vaughan, The Artist’s Model, 52-53.
2According to William Vaughan, Clark used this distinction- without acknowledging Sickert- in The Nude, “Overexposed: The Model in British Figurative Art” in Model and supermodel, 105-121, 120, n. 9.
4Vaughan, “Overexposed,” 110.