Exhibition text

The exhibition is dedicated to one of the most popular motifs in art history and in particular the German Expressionists: the nude. For the "Brücke" artists, the human body becomes an expression of inner moods and feelings; the group around Ernst Ludwig Kirchner captures the human body in the Modern art in angular forms, high-contrast colors and exaggerated gestures. The exhibition in the exclusive showroom continues the influence of this revolutionary new pictorial language of the Expressionists and presents the increasingly abstract depiction of the naked human in contemporary art.


The term "nude" is derived from the Latin «actus», participle from «agere» (to move, to set oneself in motion) and originally referred in art to the position of a naked, living model for study purposes. Today, it is understood to mean any form of depiction of a naked person. In this sense, the first nude depictions were created in early cultures, such as the Venus statuettes, small, usually strictly stylized sculptural works made of stone, bone, ivory or clay, which depicted naked, obese women, whereby the female features, with a closed posture, were worked out extremely strongly. They were probably fertility symbols. An outstanding example of this is the so-called Venus of Willendorf.

The depiction of nudes reached its first peak in Greek and Roman antiquity. Since the archaic era, male bodies practiced in sports have been idealized and immortalized in stone or painted on bowls and vessels. Around 350 B.C., the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles created Aphrodite of Cnidos for the first time, a sculptural, monumental depiction of a naked female body that can be viewed all around, and thus achieved world fame. It immediately became one of the most admired works of antiquity, a revolution in Western art. Praxiteles did not depict a rigid ideal, he captured the moment. He knew how to harmoniously shape the interaction of the body parts and the realistic overall impression was just as important to him as the perfect proportion. The artist knew that until then, the goddess had only been created naked in smaller statues, but never larger-than-life. He received a commission from the citizens of Kos for a sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite and decided to make two versions: one dressed according to tradition and a revolutionary version, naked. According to tradition, the hetaera Phryne is said to have been the model for this second. A scandal! The citizens of Kos opted for the clothed version, but Praxiteles managed to avoid the nude to the not far away Knidos. Here the statue was placed in a temple dedicated to the goddess and was first received with indignation, but then soon admired. Numerous copies of Aphrodite of Cnidos were already made in antiquity, more and more depictions of the naked female body were carved in stone, later also painted, but these always remained tied to a theme until the 19th century, needed a pretext.

In the Middle Ages, there were hardly any nudes, they only increased again in the Renaissance, namely as studies of proportion, as representations based on ancient sculptures or on dead, in rare cases even living models. They, too, always remained connected to a motif: gods, heroes, biblical figures or allegories could appear naked. Particularly popular among the female nudes were the goddess of love, beauty and desire, Aphrodite - later Venus in Latin - and the human mother Eve. It was not until the French Impressionists that the depiction of the naked human body was detached from a specific, predetermined theme and created it as an independent motif. The model was often known, which, as in the early days - with Praxiteles - could lead to heated discussions. They raised the nude became a genre of their own, painting both male and female naked people in the studio and outdoors.

The triumphal march of the nude as an independent representation had begun and became one of the most popular and frequent motifs in Expressionism, as an expression of inner moods and feelings. Whether standing, sitting, kneeling, lying down with legs and arms stretched or bent, in the studio or outdoors, as a resting model or involved in a movement, as bathers or dancers: naked women and naked men populated the creative fantasies of artists, inspiring them to drawings, prints, watercolors, paintings and sculptures, as well as photographs. Girls, women, life partners and artist colleagues posed for models and a special form of life drawing was created: the expressionists of the artists' group "Brücke" developed the so-called "quarter-hourlynude", which shaped and revolutionized the way we depict. No longer staying in one position for hours, but holding still for a maximum of 15 minutes, so that the artists had to capture the outlines on the paper in a few, concise strokes and lines. This led to a quick way of working and a sketchy presentation. Details could no longer be worked out, shading was replaced by a "nervous" zigzag hatching. Graphic and colour elaboration was transferred to the studio and later completed from memory.

More information about the individual artists and artworks can be found in our online catalogue and the Online Viewing Room on the topic "nude in the Modern art and Contemporary Art".

Online catalogue

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