[Reclining Nude]

Julien Vallou de Villeneuve French

Not on view

A lithographer of scenes of daily life, costume, and erotica in the 1820s and 1830s, Julien Vallou de Villeneuve reportedly took up photography about 1842. Because his early photographs have not been identified, it has been assumed that they depicted naked women, a subject for which it was too improper to acknowledge authorship. Although prurient lithographs of courtesans playing with animals and large salon paintings of Oriental odalisques and half-draped Romans could pass the censors, photographs of naked flesh were suspect. Unless they were veiled or adorned and posed to look like painted nudes, the women in the photographs were considered too titillating.
Between 1851 and 1855, Vallou made a series of small-scale paper photographs of naked women which he marketed (and legally registered) as models for artists. Whether they were intended solely for artists is arguable, but in order to sell the images openly the photographer had to work into his pictures the paraphernalia of the painter's studio--rugs, shawls, spears, beads, anklets, turbans, and the like. Despite these moderations Vallou's nudes were remarkable. Their flesh was tantalizingly real in both weight and texture; indeed, the photographs served Courbet as appropriately lifelike models.
This image is one of the most minimally camouflaged. Swiveled to reveal an amphora of thighs, groin, and torso, her extremities and face hazed with shadow, this mid-nineteenth-century Parisian model reclining in a photographer's studio recalls both Titian and Goya. Vallou gave amplitude and breadth to the perfect pose by visually suspending the model in empty space, like a dream between couch and curtain.

[Reclining Nude], Julien Vallou de Villeneuve (French, 1795–1866), Salted paper print from paper negative

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