Lucien Clergue: Nudes

Photograph by Lucien Clergue

In his work on the female nude, Clergue brings together the various currents of his artistic practice. He titled his first book of nudes Aphrodite. Borrowing from classical Western mythology, Clergue imbues his earliest nudes with allusions to the Greek goddess. Like so much of surviving classical Greek statuary of the gods, in Clergue's photography the bodies are truncated.

Photograph by Lucien Clergue

Clergue claims in his volume, Nude Workshop that as a young man he used his handkerchief to measure the distances between head and breasts, breasts and waist, waist and ankles as depicted in such statuary to learn the dimensions of ideal human form as understood by the Greeks and by the artists of the Italian Renaissance.

Like his saltimbanques, Clergue's nudes deny individual character or selfhood in favor of representing "universal" types. Clergue's The Giants, Camargue, 1978 offers a repetition of forms. Here multiple bodies take on the appearance of a landscape rising out of the surf.

In his Sea Nude, Carmargue, 1958 the female torso seems to be twisting itself free from the watery depths of the ocean. The image appears to be a rendering of the sea-birth of Aphrodite from the excised manhood of her father Ouranos.

Photograph by Lucien Clergue

Called Aphrodite because she was fashioned from foam, she was revered as the goddess of love and sexuality. Fulton observes that "The nude seems to be in motion, rolling away from the foam swirling around her. Although distorted by movement, the legs and buttocks balance the wide chest and breasts. The shape of the abdomen echoes in smaller dimensions the form of the buttocks."

Clergue's later female nudes draw upon other traditions including the story of Eve. Against such backdrops as the forest, the city and the desert, Clergue explores the female nude as archetypal form. Fulton notes that upon seeing the print of Sea Nude, Carmargue, 1958, Picasso saw in its complex and twisting form Cubist concerns with the simultaneous presentation of multiple points of view. Yet Clergue's work seems less concerned with modernist interrogations of the contingencies of vision than mythopoetic obsessions with intuitive sight.

Next: Clergue's Gypsies