Adrian Stokes

Nude Lying


Not on display

Adrian Stokes 1902–1972
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 546 × 652 mm
frame: 595 × 704 × 63 mm
Purchased 1991

Display caption

In his 'Reflections on the Nude' (1967) Stokes wrote: 'There is a sense in which all art is of the body'. He explained that, whatever the motif, forms created on a surface can be seen as representing 'the actualities of the hidden psychic structure made up of evaluations and phantasies with corporeal content'. In his paintings from the model, such as this, Stokes examined the progression of forms revealed in an even light and celebrated the autonomy of the body. Stokes's figure painting began at the Euston Road School in 1937. His teacher there, William Coldstream, painted many of his late works, including nudes, in Stokes's house after his death.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 540 x 660 mm (21 1/4 x 26 in)
Inscribed by the artist on stretcher in black marker pen ‘ADS ’63’
Label on stretcher inscribed by the artist in ink ‘Nude, 7 | 21 1/2” x 25 1/2”’

Purchased from Ann Stokes Angus, the artist’s widow 1991

Adrian Stokes, Marlborough Fine Art, London, Jan. 1965 (39, as Nude VII)
Adrian Stokes, Arts Council tour, Serpentine Gallery, London, June-July 1982, Huddersfield Art Gallery, July-Aug., City Museum and Art Gallery, Gloucester, Sept.-Oct. 1982 (74, repr. p.45, as ‘1964-5’)
The Painted Nude: From Etty to Auerbach, Tate Gallery, London, Aug.-Dec. 1992, Norwich Castle Museum, May-Sept. 1993 (19)

From 1959 until his death, Adrian Stokes painted the nude alongside B.A.R. Carter at the latter’s studio, just around the corner from Stokes’s Hampstead home. Carter taught perspective at the Slade and would hire one of the school’s regular models for the beginning of each summer vacation. The inscription on the stretcher indicates that Nude Lying was made during one such session in 1963, as opposed to 1964-5, the date wrongly appended to it for the 1982 retrospective of Stokes’s work.[1]

The model’s pose, reclining in a slightly curled position, is one seen in a number of Stokes’s nudes. An installation photograph shows that this work was exhibited at the Marlborough Gallery in 1965 juxtaposed with a painting apparently made during the same session, as it seems to show the same model in the same pose and on the same bed, but from a different angle.[2] There seems to be some confusion as this other work appears to have been numbered in the gallery as 35, identifying it as Nude III, but its size would suggest that it was Nude VIII (40).

The history of Nude Lying, which was executed in Stokes’s usual style, has left it in poor condition. The image is painted over an earlier composition which appears to be predominantly green, suggesting that it may have been a landscape. The canvas was commercially prepared with an off-white ground, but a second priming was applied by the artist over the original image. Numerous small hard-edged areas of paint have been lost as a result of the poor adhesion between the later ground and the first painting. Several of these have been touched up in a bold manner, possibly by the artist. The artist’s widow, Ann Stokes Angus, said that the deterioration of this work, in common with others, was due to the poor quality of the Swiss canvas, suggesting that the original composition dated from Stokes’s period in Ascona, in 1947-50. The stretcher had been cut down, but it would appear from the original ground that both compositions were painted after the canvas had been stretched over this same structure. Old tacking holes indicated that the canvas had been restretched at some time. As well as the delamination of the secondary ground, there was a 3 1/2 inch scratch between two points of impact damage and losses to both priming layers at all four corners. Most of the cracks, which affected both the secondary priming and paint layers, had raised edges. On acquisition by the Tate Gallery, the stretcher was replaced and the cracks and losses were consolidated.[3]

That the outline of the model’s body was drawn in thin paint is especially evident along the figure’s legs. Some of the outlines were later strengthened with Stokes’s characteristic purple, most notably along the underside of the stomach and between the knees. A similar technique was used for the shadow under the face and around the ear under the hair. The general handling is typical of Stokes, with thin applications of paint in which touches of green and purple are mingled with the predominant flesh tones. A vertical division of colour in the background and the brown skirting that sets off the model’s hip give a suggestion of the space in which she lies, though it is flattened by the even tonality of the wall.

A few years after the making of this work, Stokes published Reflections on the Nude, 1967.[4] Characteristically abstruse, the title essay suggests that the nude may be seen as ‘a promise of sanity’, proposing that, in our contemplation of it, our respect for the ‘general body is the seal upon our respect for other human beings as such’.[5] Employing the concepts of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, Stokes thus suggested that the nude, ‘if by no means the whole-object prototype, can provide imaginative translation of that prototype’. In Klein’s theory, the work of art represents the symbolic reintegration of the whole-object which, in fantasy, was split by the infant into good and bad objects. Stokes seems to propose that the painted nude might be seen to epitomise that process in synthesising art work and another human presence. He went on to relate this to more general human relations in which, at a distance, the whole-object may be recognised but, with familiarity, is superseded by the part-object. Therefore, he suggested, in painting the nude

all endeavour should be to contemplate this object as entire, together with the surroundings. The face and head are but part of the body for that contemplative work in which we do not seek to reduce the form to the terms of mouth or eye, to the terms of a single function. I myself prefer the model to be, to remain, a stranger.[6]

Thus the artist used psychoanalysis to explain the persistence of the genre of the nude in the history of art and to provide an explanation for its objectification of the female body. His desire for the model to be so distanced was demonstrated by his rejection of one of his nudes because he considered it ‘too erotic’.[7] His conception of the subject may be reflected in the painting’s all-over flatness of tone and space and the lack of definition in the facial features, signifying, perhaps, a refusal to privilege any particular aspect of the integrated body. This was also reflected in the shallow space of his landscapes and still-lifes, which may equally be interpreted in such psychoanalytic terms. But it is with the nude that both the painting and its object may be said to embody the artist’s reintegration.

Chris Stephens
July 1998

[1] Adrian Stokes, Arts Council tour, Serpentine Gallery, London, June-July 1982, Huddersfield Art Gallery, July-Aug., City Museum and Art Gallery, Gloucester, Sept.-Oct. 1982 (74, reproduced p.45).

[2] Adrian Stokes, Marlborough Fine Art, London, Jan. 1965 (39); photograph: collection Ann Stokes Angus.

[3] Tate Gallery conservation files.

[4] Stokes, Reflections on the Nude, 1967, reprinted Lawrence Gowing, ed., Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes, London 1978, III, pp.303-9.
[5] Ibid., p.304.

[6] Ibid., p.305.

[7] Ann Stokes Angus, interview with the author, 19 June 1997.

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