Reclining Nude

Faith Kim Prof. Hight Introduction to Visual Arts 4 June 2012 Reclining Nude The artwork is called Reclining Nude by Jean-Antoine Watteau and I found this artwork in the Norton Simon Museum. I was captivated by the sensuality and the delicacy in the painting. I first noticed in the painting was her robust ivory figure contrasting with the dark chocolate background because I felt that these contrasting colors evoked a sense of purity and light against the mysterious darkness. She seems to have turned around and noticed something. Perhaps someone just entered the room and surprised her or she could have been waiting for her lover.
I also noticed that in this painting, that there are only three objects: the bed, the girl, and the dark background. This painting seemed so simple to me and yet I felt there was so much more to it. What was it about her that was so special? Why was she painted? These thoughts whirled in my head as I looked at this masterpiece. I studied this painting’s importance by researching the important formal elements that composed this artwork such as color and light, the historical context in which the artwork was made, and Watteau’s intent for this artwork.
These factors have contributed in the Reclining Nude’s significance not only for me, but in art history. I first analyzed the usage of the formal elements-the color and shape- and Watteau’s skill sets in the Reclining Nude. The woman’s “creamy pink flesh is wonderfully warm and sensuous against the ivory-white of the bedclothes and the dark, chocolate-brown of the background” (Posner 385). The creamy color adds life to the woman and distinguishes her from the pale white bed sheets, thus giving the effect that her skin has “a marvelous translucency” (Posner 385).

The translucency of her skin could possibly imply her innocence and purity. The rosy blush gives the young girl a sense of modesty that even though she might be alone and lying comfortably on her bed; she is aware of her nudity. Her “shape [and] weight…of the breasts and the firm flesh of [her] stomach…are exactly defined by varying values and densities of the paint surface” (Posner 385). Watteau must have applied a certain amount of weight in applying the paint, to give the painting life. This made “the boldly painted bedding seem buoyant and responsive to the weight of the lithesome figure” (Posner 385).
His “brushwork is free and broad,” especially around the woman’s right elbow where there is apparently “a lack of clarity about the relationship of weight support” (Posner 385). Despite these irregularities, “the picture’s handling and description of forms are typical of Watteau” (Poser 385). Watteau was known for his “freedom of the hand, the lightness of touch, a subtlety in the profiles of heads and the drawing of hair, the expressiveness of the figures and compositions, [and] the pervasive feeling of [his artworks]” (Oxford).
Watteau used the Rococo style in the Reclining Nude and this certain style reflected the change in mentality during 18th century France. According to Art: A Brief History, “The Rococo style may be seen partly as a reaction at all levels of society, even among kings and bishops, against the Grand Manner of Baroque art, indentified with formality and rigidity of seventeenth-century court life” (Stokstad 412). The Baroque style prior to the Rococo style magnified the grandeur of the powerful-the royalty and nobility.
They were portrayed as godlike and were painted in a formal and rigid manner. Rococo was a much more relaxed notion and is “characterized by pastel colors, delicately curving forms, dainty figures, and lightheartedness” (Stokstad 412). The Reclining Nude represents these ideas of the Rococo style. Her body has a delicate curve especially around her hips adjacent to the dark background and her fingers are so delicate, it seems as if she has never used them before.
During this time was the early emergence of the Enlightenment when “radical technological advances” and changes in philosophy were happening (Stokstad 469). People were starting to become curious, questioned their surroundings, and were thinking more realistically. The change in France’s notion is reflected in the Reclining Nude. The woman is more humanized with her lying comfortably than posing like a goddess in stupendous fashion. Also, the details of her anatomy, such as the indent of fat between her left breast and hip, give her a more realistic look as well.
The Reclining Nude carries the characteristics of the Rococo style and embodies the cultural shift of France. No one knows for certain the true meaning behind Watteau’s Reclining Nude. There are theories that Reclining Nude has no meaning and is a simply a copy of Watteau’s other artwork, The Remedy. The Remedy “shows the same reclining nude woman who appears in the painting. But in addition, it includes a maid with a syringe approaching her mistress to administer an enema, and also a night-table at the left and more of the bed at the bottom of the composition” (Posner 386).
Only difference is that in the Reclining Nude, the focal point is not the action between the woman and her nurse, but just the woman. However, Watteau might have intended for the painting to be an erotic artwork. Watteau might have portrayed her as the ideal woman and to make love to this woman is as beautiful as her. This type of work would have reflected the “intellectual and social libertinism… especially in France” (Posner 387). Expressing eroticism such as this was radical, but so was the culture and time period of France.
The woman has also been noted to be a pagan goddess for she is “wonderfully seductive” and shares the modesty of a pagan goddess (Posner 388). Unlike what art historians and theorist say, I believe that Watteau’s intent was for us to just relax like her and enjoy the beauty of life. I think he would have wanted us to unwind and shift our focus from materials and more into the natural beauty. Watteau definitely displayed characteristics of the Rococo style and might have meant to use this style to display some very simple and yet beautiful forms of life.
Instead of the opulence of the rich like in the Baroque style, he focused more on the natural beauty. He points out the delicacies and the loveliness of the woman that further attribute to her exquisiteness. Although there are many things I would love to know more about the Reclining Nude, I have learned a lot from my research. I feel satisfied of my discoveries and researching the Reclining Nude has reminded of the great importance art history is in our society. Studying art history gives us glimpses of life during those time periods.
They show us their people, cultures, styles, etc. Utilizing art, we are able to study from past people, cultures, and styles and therefore, apply this knowledge for the future. Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Reclining Nude provides history and meaning to society and can be studied to understand the mentality then, compared to how we are today. The visual techniques, the historical context, and the meaning of the Reclining Nude have helped enlighten me about this painting’s significance on myself and in art history.

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