The centrality of the depiction of the human figure within western art set the context for the theme of nude figures reading. What are such pictures about? The body or the reading, sex or the intellect? Are they provocative and do they imply sexual availability or withdrawal? Are the women open to the viewer or closed off in their own world, turning both artist and viewer into voyeurs? What is the artist’s intention and how much of the interpretation is down to our own perceptions. For my part, I see the book as a fig leaf, as Eve used the original in some cases, but most often a motif to give the nude a veneer of respectability, to pretend that it’s not nudity for nudity’s sake.
A short debate about the difference between ‘naked’ a ‘nude’ elicited different view from two oracles. Kenneth Clark: ‘Being naked is being without clothes. The nude is a form of art.’ John Berger: ‘To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself. A nude has to be seen as an object in order to be nude.’
There are no photographs of nudes reading in my book Take a Seat, so I can offer no comparisons from it this time. A Google search for photographs of nudes reading yields a predictably cheesy crop. I’ve opted for something where the reading material is a very welcome fig leaf.