Reclining Nude, Amedeo Modigliani, 1919

Come the late 19th-century and early 20th ladies are depicted as nude and proud, damn it. Often artists would portray pubic and underarm hair to emphasize their sexuality. And Courbet maxed it out.

Nu couché, Amedio Modigliani, 1917 - 18

Nu couché, Amedio Modigliani, 1917 – 18

Reclining Nude, Amedeo Modigliani, 1919

Reclining Nude, Amedeo Modigliani, 1919

Hmm, I’m noticing a trend…

courbet

The Woman in the Waves, Gustave Courbet, 1868

In Bed, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

In Bed, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

Yep, all very attractive women in intimate or alluring poses.

Odalisque with Raised Arms, Henri Matisse, 1923

Odalisque with Raised Arms, Henri Matisse, 1923

schiele

Sitting Girl, Egon Schiele, 1917

Body hair, specifically underarm and pubic hair were the epitome of shocking sex appeal. The nudes are almost all in poses that emphasize their breasts. Yet many look right at the viewer, inviting them in (still rather controversial at the time for a nude woman). Underarm hair wouldn’t be seen by anyone in public, so it makes sense that it could be eroticized.

And of course, I have to talk about L’Origine du Monde. Gustave Courbet hid the painting under a green curtain in his bathroom and delighted in shocking his guests by giving them a peep.

It still shocks. So it, uh, straddles some interesting lines. Ultimately the name, The Origin of the World, and mastery of the brushwork itself pushes the painting into the art category. But you can decide for yourself.

The Origin of the World, Gustave Courbet, 1866

The Origin of the World, Gustave Courbet, 1866

So, pubic hair is okay, as long as it’s sexy. It’s risque, but its existence is now acknowledged. Some women can even rock armpit hair in art and be portrayed as desirable. The pendulum on standards swings back and forth.

That’s it! I now have some interesting terms in my search history. But, I hope this Body Hair series shows how body hair is still fraught with gender politics. And how art history has tangled with the female body as much as we do today. I still want to see a little arm and leg hair, but we’ll get there.

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