In the series The Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 6
You have mixed eyes. I see a dreamer in one eye and a fool in the other. You see, I’m so old now that I’m going around a second time and appreciate things.
Cruz Smith, Red Square
In order to devote some wise words to the phenomenon of the pictor doctus, the scholar-painter, I spread out five prints on my desk, each with a picture of a nude or a naked women.
In Rembrandt ‘s Eyes Schama distinguishes between nude and naked. A women in a painting, and perhaps in a photograph, who is partially dressed he considers to be ‘in a transition stage’. She is not a ‘nude’ in the common definition of the word. This, then, would also hold true for example Rubens’ Pelsken, his almost nude wife in a fur coat.
Because we still see these bodies as also and unmistakably desirable, we experience them also as vulnerable, being ‘exhibited’ and thus naked as well. Schama’s plot: “We are all nudes before the act , and we are all naked afterwards.”
The first photo on my desk, made by Brassai, dates from 1932 and shows the impressive butts of three standing muses of the flesh, undressed whores who ‘introduce’ themselves to the visiting customer according to the protocol of a Paris brothel. This guest is still clad in winter attire, he suffers visibly from his embarrassment of riches. To have a closer, thus better look at each of the three ladies, I have to put on my reading glasses. Their rounded variations certainly give one ideas.
Brassai, Brothel in Paris
Perhaps Rubens’ painting The Judgment of Paris inspired Brassai. A certain similarity seems to exist, although one of the ladies wears in this case a ‘pelsken’ as Rubens’ wife does:
Rubens, The Judgment of Paris
The third print – a watercolor drawing, made in the same period of Brassai’s globe-assed prostitutes – is part of a series of autobiographical pictures by George Grosz, having the painter’s philandering as its theme.
Grosz, Self-portrait with Whores
Grosz was also the inventor of the look -through, drawings of both shabby and chic dressed women through whose attire their naked body is still visible. A disguised demasqué as it were.
Grosz – The Look-through
On the left side of his water-colored Self-Portrait we perceive a duo of voluptuously stacked harlots, in terms of the flesh certainly not inferior to the three girls on the Brassai photograph. The lower placed girl is holding onto something that looks like a little frock. She rests her head on her arms which embrace the ankles of the other woman who is standing.
That second lady is wearing – once again – only a minute fur coat, a ‘pelsken’. Slightly bending forward, she presents her delectable ass to Grosz. Faced with so many lush openings, the painter presents himself with a huge ejaculating prick, manipulating himself to a discharge.
Why I bring all this up has not so much to do with asses and dresses, but with the glasses that Grosz is wearing, something to be seen only with a magnifying glass:
Grosz, Detail of Self-Portrait with Whores
Just as I had to put on my reading glasses to espy in depth Brassai’s beauties, so myopic Grosz had to keep his glasses on, in order not to miss anything of those two exciting bitches, this in an attempt to come with his own hand. In old age, a man does it to himself, the necessary incentive becoming stronger and stronger, lenses being needed to effectively espy a remote ass.
Stanley Spencer, Self-Portrait with Wife
This painting of Stanley Spencer seems autonomous, not like Brassai’s photo inspired by something else. However, Spencer suffers from the same defect as Grosz, which brings him into my little essay. To better enjoy his own wife he is also wearing glasses. In this case, however, he seems to be surprised at what he sees and more interested in the slightly older, somewhat bored and certainly sad face, than in her nobler parts.
Scholar-artists they are – those who closely, almost clinically observe their objects of lust. Whether or not in a state of turmoil they seek truth in women rather than excitement. Or perhaps the truth of that excitement.
Sierksma 2000, November 2015