Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Sensuality and Women in Sculpture

This series #FindingKuhne brings you with me while I am trying to discover more about the American sculptor: Kuhne Beveridge (b.1877), you can find articles about this research project here and here. For this article, I would like to thank the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds which allowed me to look at its archives on Kuhne Beveridge. 

Kuhne Beveridge Veiled Venus 1900 Paris Leeds
Kuhne Beveridge, Ella von Wrede, The Veiled Venus (1900). Leeds Art Gallery (Leeds).
After looking at Kuhne's biography here, the next step in my #FindingKuhne project was to look at other artists' works and find similarities with Kuhne's works. At the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th century, sculptors were inclined to work on the woman's body while emphasising their sensuality through suggestive poses and nudity, the Femme Fatale

In sculpture, Auguste Rodin was extremely talented in depicting sensuous women, for instance with Torso of Adele (1880).

Kuhne Beveridge Veiled Venus Rodin Torse Adèle 1880
Auguste Rodin, Torse d'Adèle (1880). Musée Rodin (Paris).
Following Rodin's teaching was, among a plethora of students, Kuhne Beveridge who studied with him for several years at the end of the 19th century. While studying in Paris, Kuhne was in direct contact with other artists but also a lot of artworks from a few decades earlier. She visited museums and other artists' studios in order to gain skills and inspiration, from the Romanticism of Auguste Préault to the Realism of Rodin.   

Rodin was one of the first "stars" in sculpture, especially in America. Women artists, especially sculptresses, were numerous on the other side of the Pond and viewed Rodin as their "Master". Kuhne referred to Rodin as her dear and talented master throughout the years, "Mon très cher et talentueux maître" (courtesy of Musée de Rodin).

However, Rodin was not the only sculptor to depict women in "upward-reaching or stretching postures, expressing ecstatic emotions in what can be interpreted as images of liberation"(1). The Veiled Venus follow the same iconography, mixing the ecstasy of Therese d'Avila, and the sensuality of the end of the 19th century.  
Here is a selection of artworks sharing similar iconographical references with the Veiled Venus:

Giovanni Dupré, The Death of Abel (1853). LACMA (Los Angeles). 
In this sculpture, by the Italian artist Giovanni Dupré (1817-1882), the main character is no longer a woman but Abel. He has the same position as the Veiled Venus with his body stretching and his arms above his head. However, the character is dead, unlike the vivacity of the Venus. 

Auguste Clésinger, Femme piquée par un serpent (1847). Musée d'Orsay (Paris). 
This sculpture's similarities with the Veiled Venus are striking: the woman is lying on the plinth and seems to expand as if the plinth was too small for her, especially for her upper body. Both heads are moving out of the plinth, trying to reach out to the viewer, to interact with him/her. The sensuality of the piece and the tensions in the body are similar to the Veiled Venus

Auguste Préault, Ophélie (1876). Musée d'Orsay (Paris).

Auguste Préault's low relief depicts Ophélie after her drowning, floating on the water. The waves and her drapery seem to be as one, creating the same effect as in the Veiled Venus

To analyse further the Veiled Venus' sensuality, have a read of a Queer interpretation of the sculpture here


(1) Helen Susan Fort, The Figure in American Sculpture: A Question of Modernity, Washington, University Press of George Washington, 1995.  

Kuhne Beveridge, Correspondance with Auguste Rodin (29 letters), Paris, Musée Rodin (unpublished).

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