Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly — 1910 (Heft 31)

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for adolescent, thin and flexible bodies, have preserved in the depiction of
narrow limbs something of the charm of Primitif purity. None of them are
poets of the nude who could suggest the vague palpitation of a breast or throat,
the mystery of some inexplicable movement, or the poetry that lingers in the
depression of the groin where the epidermis unfolds its most exquisite suavity.
If we compare the reclining Venus of Titian to Manet’s Omphale, and the
plastic images of Michael Angelo to the angular ghostlike forms of Puvis de
Chavannes, we realize that the ancient dream of nudity is fading. The modern
artist in the treatment of the nude has become a specialist. Manet’s Omphale,
drawn with Ingres-like precision, shows little more than physical sincerity.
The figures of Chavannes are conceived as color patches in a symphony of
frail colors, stimulated by line arrangement. They contain but little of the
fantastic splendor of the past, of the subtle power to evoke fantasies of esthetic
sensuousness.
To the modern painter the most precious singularity of the body is its
coloration, the indescribable color of the skin. They endeavor to gild the form
by an inner flame, and to enrich its tissues with a diffusion of gold and impal-
pable amber. Etty tried to recapture the joyous voluptuousness of Rubens, by
a variety of harmonious pallors. And the impressionists, notably Renoir,
search in the luminous surface of the flesh, with its undulating planes, for
accords and contrasts almost analagous to musical dissonances. Color is a
great magician through which the human form may become metamorphosed
into radiant dreams of light—the figure of a woman standing in the splendor
of the day, a warm and joyful body beaten by the sun—disclosing its infinite
grace in a new expressive way. But color alone will not perform the miracle
of resurrection. The slightest defects are accentuated and although they may
not diminish the fascination, the attraction is an irritating one.
As the old laws—of construction and action, of measurement and scientific
observation of the idea of perfect beauty, which could subdue all rebellious
forms and disclose in the body the whole gamut of human passions—have gone
out of usage, some new ideal must be pursued. We need the clair obscure of
a Henner, Whistler or Carrière to envelop the figure in translucent shades,
that the flesh may shine from the darkness with the mobile splendor of precious
stones, and tremblingly reveal an inner life. And the obscurity of chambers
with drawn shades will yield a more suggestive setting than the barren bright-
ness of studios of northern exposure.
The mystic, psychological note alone can save us from animalism in the
representation of a nude. It will enable us to wrest from it the sentiment and
deeper significance which reigns beneath the external. The nude body reveals
its highest beauty only in fugitive visions and fragments. The exponent of
the nude must follow a human body in all its actions, its slightest gestures, its
almost insensible movements, and most delicate external signs. The actual
appearance of the nude will change at every moment. The artist mind must
preserve the inspiration of the one moment which still dominates his mind.
The expression, that immaterial quality which irradiates all matter, that
changing force which invades the body and transfigures it, that vibrant power

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