Karen Krizanovich is a writer and broadcaster who has written for The Erotic Review and The Amorist and also regularly contributes to the Telegraph, Monocle and BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and Woman’s Hour. Here, she discusses six works, which depict the classic subject of the female nude. The works are taken from the upcoming auctions Erotic: Passion & Desire and Erotic Art Online, which celebrate centuries of exceptional erotic art through painting, sculpture, drawing, photographs, books and design.
Female nudes, more often than not, focus on the power of women, a fact easily discerned with the six shots presented for sale here. Each is a singularly important photograph that represents a unique step forward in a how we see the feminine form. These images were made with an awakened eye, capturing a unique moment of female force and stirring the imagination of every person who sees them.
The image of Nastassja Kinski, the face of the 1980s, is arguably one of the greatest photographs of the decade. According to Polly Mellen who directed photographer Richard Avedon, the shoot for US Vogue magazine transcended fashion. After snapping some standard fashion shots, Mellen asked Kinski if she liked anything in particular. Kinski replied, “snakes”. So a python was summoned with Kinski agreeing to do the shot nude.
RICHARD AVEDON, NASTASSJA KINSKI AND THE SERPENT, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, 1981. ESTIMATE £50,000-70,000. FROM EROTIC: PASSION & DESIRE.
“[Kinski] lay down and the snake wound around her body and got to her ear and kissed her… and [Avedon] took the picture and I had tears rolling down my cheeks,” said Mellen. “I couldn’t believe it. It was magical, completely magical. When the snake kissed her ear, and the tongue went into her ear, the shoot was over. I mean, we couldn’t speak….” In retrospect Mellen would have removed the bracelet because this picture is far beyond fashion.
So iconic was the photograph that it appeared prominently when Kinski appeared on the popular David Letterman TV show. Of the snake Kinski said, “He or she was more frightened than I was. She was very afraid by light or any movement. So as soon as I did a movement, she did a movement and we would keep on doing movements and never get to each other. I was talking to Avedon about it and he said one day he would show all the photos because this was the one and only photograph that would have some kind of connection otherwise the foot would be there and the snake would be there and the music of both of our beings wasn’t quite right [in all the other shots].”
HERB RITTS, BRIGITTE NIELSON MALIBU. ESTIMATE £4,000-6,000. FROM EROTIC ART ONLINE.
The Kinski/Avdeon photograph was also one of the most popular poster images in the 1980s. As Telegraph columnist Rowan Pelling says, “[This photo is] so iconic it feels like the backdrop to my teens. No self-respecting male existentialist of the 1980s was without a reproduction of the image and most women I knew aspired to her sphinx-like poise.” It has since been repeatedly “homaged” - mostly notably in 2015 by the team of Patrick Demarchelier, Jennifer Lawrence and a giant Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor.
The stunning image of Brigitte Nielsen, her 6’1” frame silhouetted by torn netting, is a visual poem by Herb Ritts taken on a Malibu beach. Nielsen, famous initially as a model then actress in such films as Red Sonja, shows the magnificence of being statuesque and visually as strong as Mapplethorpe’s take on bodybuilder Lisa Lyons a few years earlier. Ritts, noted as a photographer of monumental celebrity, presents Nielsen as a force of nature en repose in a mesh of threads.
She’s Light (2013) by Chris Levine is perhaps the purest portrait of model Kate Moss. A collaboration with Moss’s favourite makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury, Levine fashioned it in the style of his luminous portrait of Her Majesty the Queen and it’s fitting that Levine’s subject should be another British cultural icon. “There’s a spirit in Kate that seems to have struck a chord with so many,” said the photographer. “Every opportunity I got [to shoot a portrait], I tried to distill it back to just pure essence without any suggestion or iconography or anything…” Tilbury’s addition of deep black lashes and startling red lips makes this composition as strong as any Warhol.
DAVID BAILEY, CATHERINE IN TURBAN. ESTIMATE £1,000-1,500. FROM EROTIC ART ONLINE.
Model Catherine Dyer’s meditative composure is both domestic and exotic in the intimate portrait Catherine in Turban (1990) taken by legendary photographer David Bailey (who is also the model’s husband). If Bailey’s work defined the 1960s, French photographer Antoine Verglas style influenced fashion photography forty years later. With his candid, factual, almost documentary approach, Verglas used available light to capture Angelina Jolie for British GQ January 2000. Emblematic of Verglas’ transformational approach, she is shown at ease, ready to stride out of the frame.
ANTOINE VERGLAS, ANGELINA JOLIE I, 2000. ESTIMATE £1,000-1,500. FROM EROTIC ART ONLINE.
Finally, the fabled Helena Christensen is shown in the equally iconic image by Michel Comte. Simple in its concept yet startling in its execution, it is intimate but discreet, the shadows of the supermodel’s back muscles showing power and femininity can be one and the same.
MICHEL COMTE, HELENA CHRISTENSEN, 1995. ESTIMATE £5,000-7,000. FROM EROTIC ART ONLINE.
From Nastassja with the snake to Brigitte on the beach, each frame of these important photographs distill the eroticism and power of women - essential moments of sensual power at maximum strength. These are six images that prove one need not exploit to stir the imagination nor demote women to ‘the weaker sex’. As Henri Matisse once said, “The living model, the naked body of a woman, is the privileged seat of feeling, but also of questioning... The model must mark you, awaken in you an emotion which you seek in turn to express.”