Henri Gervex – Rolla – 1878
Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress. – John Berger
Based upon a poem by Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), this reclining nude which belongs to the early work of Henri Gervex (1852-1829), who’s birthday it would have been today (160), which(his early works) belonged almost exclusively to the ‘mythological’ genre. Although it is (or should represent) a mythological painting, the lady reclining on the bed is most certainly not a Venus (as told in the poem). Based upon the pile of cloths, the half dressed gentlemen standing at the balcony I could imagine her being a prostitute, reclining and resting after a wild a sensual game of love. The gentlemen still looking upon the beautiful lady laying in (his) bed.
Do you regret the age when, in majestic grace, Fair heaven amid the gods made earth her dwell- ing-place ; When Venus Astarte, child of the mighty sea, Rose from the bitter wave in virgin purity? The time, when drifting nymphs lay on the river’s breast, And with their wanton laughter vexed the lazy rest Of fauns stretched out to sleep upon the reedy shore? When in the pool Narcissus his fair image saw, And when great Hercules eternal justice dealt, Clad in his gory mantle of a lion’s pelt; When mocking satyrs swayed the leafy boughs among, Whistling a jeering echo to the traveler’s song? – Alfred de Musset; Rolla
Although most likely not a Venus, she does have the perfect body, heavenly white skin which could refer to the earlier works of Titian. A voluptuous body of a young lady, reclining on a bed, staring directly at the viewing audience and not in a coy manner, almost as if she invites us to join her.
His work (Gervex) is also clearly influenced by Cabanel (1823 – 1889), which was his teacher. Which can be noticed in the same use of lightly, fresh colors, the white and pure skin, even the breasts are almost exactly the same. Thematically on the other hand there are almost no comparisons possible, except for the ‘venus’ which is shown on both paintings. It should be said that both painting’s mythological theme’s were only an excuse to paint a nude. Therefor there is a difference between a ‘naked‘ and a ‘nude‘. Gervex clearly painted a ‘naked’. Titian a nude.
A. Cabanel- The birth of Venus -1863
Reclining nude (photo)- artist unknown
Berlinde de Bruyckere
I’d also like to show the comparison made with the work of a contemporary belgian artist (which I shall be reviewing later on).