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Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau (Detail)
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  • Bouguereau Nudes and The Double Standards of Modernist Art Critics

    by Bruce Attah

    Bouguereau Nudes and the Double Standards of Modernist Art Critics
    by Bruce Attah

    Regarding Bouguereau and pornography, I find it intriguing that when it comes to Victorian painters, the slightest suggestion of possible eroticism is taken by modern critics to indicate prurience, male chauvinism, neuroticism, or even sexual perversity, and all these are taken to be proof that the Victorian painter is bad. (A quite outrageous example I came across once was when critic Waldemar Januszczak decided Lord Leighton must have been a pederast because in a particular painting - Cimabue's Madonna - a man and a boy are seen holding hands!) Yet, if an artist belongs to the modernist tradition, any amount of eroticism or sexual content, overt or indirect, is not just tolerated but celebrated, and art that expresses quite suspect attitudes to sex or women is treated as evidence of the artist's excellence. (Examples are many, but Balthus, Hans Bellmer, Allen Jones, Tom Wesselman and Picasso stand out.) Victorians just can't win, as they're held to an extreme standard of prudery that didn't even apply in Victorian or Napoleonic times, while their successors have absolute sexual licence. As for neuroticism, if you're a modernist, then the madder you appear to be, the better. I suppose it would be too much to ask a modernist critic to be consistent!

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