Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Venus in a hat: Seated nude: The black hat by Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942)

Seated nude: The black hat (c1900)

We first mentioned English impressionist Philip Wilson Steer in our post on the Pettigrew sisters, of whom Rose was his favoured model.  This painting, dating to about 1900, is too late to be Rose who, having married in 1896 (and not to Steer, to her disappointment), had stopped modelling.

Steer, apart from his wonderful landscapes, always had an interest in paintings of the nude but this one was never exhibited in his lifetime.  He sold it, along with  a number of other works, to the Tate Gallery in 1941, a year before his death.  Eschewing the classicism of Alma-Tadema, Leighton, Godward and their peers, Steers nudes always inhabited contemporary spaces. Steer told the director of the Tate, Sir John Rothenstein, that his friends reckoned the hat spoiled the painting and that it was indecent that a nude should be portrayed wearing a hat, so he never exhibited it.  Of course, the hat completely makes the painting and transforms what would be a conventional studio view into something more charming.

Sleep 1898

Interestingly, the far more erotically charged Sleep was exhibited, shortly after it was painted.  It was later bought by Winston Churchill'c cousin, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill, who presented it to the Tate in 1927.  The light on the slightly spread legs drawing attention to the shadowed place between them, the model clutches her breast and looks as if she is dreamily contemplating something arousing.  This is certainly not a natural sleeping position and we wonder how Steer could think The black hat was unsuitable for public exhibition but this was. 

Steer couldn't get into the Royal Academy to study so went to Paris in 1882 where he came under the influence of Manet and Whistler.  When he returned to England in 1884 he had acquired an impressionist style.  In 1893 he was appointed as Professor of Art in the Slade School of Fine Art in London.  Steer taught and influenced such painters as Augustus John and William Orpen.

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