This celebrated work has an important place within a series of pivotal paintings of nudes by Gustave Courbet that spans the early 1850s to the late 1860s. Courbet was after the mystery of presence, the sense of a real person before us, the flesh, the mass – almost the smell. Reclining Nude emphatically opposes recreating the smooth, marble-like flesh of academic artists.
This is the work of an artist undertaking to become a living example of the Realist manifesto. It was a manifesto that earned the admiration of Delacroix, Manet, van Gogh and Lucian Freud. The radical power of Courbet continues to be acknowledged by the present generation of artists such as Tracy Emin. The questions Courbet asks around the male gaze continue to resonate with artists, just look at Jeff Koons’s Hand on Breast in which the artist inserts himself into the image, locking the viewer’s gaze in ironic tribute to Courbet.
This remarkable painting resonates with an unsparing engagement with the truth of the figure.
To learn more about the Artist’s Muse curated sale, please visit christies.com/muse.