Figures can be farmers or fishermen, a child or baby figure, a portrait or a nude. The latter was both a loaded and beloved subject. Actually, nudes were portrayed from the Middle Ages, for example in depictions of Adam and Eve or Danaë, later made famous by Rembrandt. From the Renaissance onwards, mythological depictions were a permissible way of painting nudes. It was usually about the woman, because with or without clothes around the body she was traditionally a popular artistic theme. After classical antiquity, the man was depicted much less naked. Until the 18th century, it was possible to depict the female nude freely in the Netherlands, provided in an allegorical or historical context or in farcical, contemporary representations. Due to new ideas about what was proper, the subject increasingly faded into the background. The female nude was no longer allowed to be seen outside the bedroom.
Idealized, proper and decent
Because of this strict morality, the female nude was rarely painted in the first half of the 19th century. If so, the artists followed the academy's rules for portraying idealized, feminine beauty. At the academies, students drew from plaster casts of classical statues, and until well into the 19th century, the female live nude model was banned from the classrooms. Women were mainly depicted in their role as mothers, taking care of their children or knitting, handcrafting or daydreaming in an interior.
The living female nude model
In the second half of the 19th century, the rules relaxed somewhat. Nude models were now allowed at academies and imperfections were also allowed to be painted. The emotion and personal impression of the painter were considered important. Bathers were a good excuse for painters to paint nudes. Henri Fantin-Latour, painter of many portraits, painted countless nudes. The way of portraying was often dreamy, the light diffused, creating an aesthetic distance between the nude and the viewer. The taboo was still deeply rooted.
The pure, bare reality
It was the Amsterdam painter G.H. Breitner who consciously wanted to break the taboo with his smoothly painted, realistic nudes. He used models he picked up from the street, often working class women with red hands from the rough work they did. Contemporaries' opinions on his paintings ranged from daring to obscene. Isaac Israels and Kees Maks also devoted themselves to wide-bodied nudes, although they were portrayed more delicately and less 'undressed' than those of Breitner.
Love and emotion
In the 20th century, the nude in any form or pose has been widely accepted. In response to industrialization and urbanization, the German Expressionists idealized the nude in the wild. Leo Gestel and Jan Sluijters provide spectacular expressionist or luminist nudes in the Netherlands. The model is often the painter's wife. An example of this is a series of nudes by George Grosz, one of the most important artists of German Expressionism of the early 20th century. After a period of heavy social criticism and series of raw drawings and paintings, he left Berlin in 1933 and emigrated with his wife and children to the United States. There he made numerous nude portraits of his wife, Eva Louise Peter. None of the rawness of his early nudes can be found in these paintings and drawings. They testify to the painter's deep love for his model.