The Nude in Art and Artlessness

From “Town Talk”, Vol XXXVIII, No. 1490, San Francisco-Oakland, January 1, 1921.

“The Spectator has heard some talk not in favor of all the plans that were made for the Soldiers’ Memorial. Some of this had reference to the artistic devotions of the edifice. We all have a penchant for art; and art has an affection for the nude. Hence, the municipality of San Francisco, in housing an art school, would be giving official recognition to the fact that there is such thing as the nude figure. In this wonder palace, made sacred by the blood of heroes, would enter female models, who would divest themselves of all their clothes and pose before our sons and daughters. Such is the understanding of the case, and while the critics declare they have no objection to art nor to the human body, the city of San Francisco, they assert, cannot afford to participate in an enterprise which might lower the morale of policemen on the beat, and publish to the world an interest in nakedness. The objection, we fancy, is a weak one; for the memorial should be addressed to all the fine arts; and to leave out the very one that is closest to architectural beauty, would be an ignominious blunder.

Elävän mallin piirustus, opetustilanne, 1920-luku. Taideteollisuuskeskuskoulun opetustilanteita.-TaiKV-07-013

“San Francisco, inspiring to be the Paris of America, in the best sense, as well as the Athens of the Pacific, should remember that both those cities have given official recognition to art in all forms. Thus did they become great; and on that account do we appropriate their names as an epithet for our own art ambitions. Anyway, it is time that the human figure cease to convulse its possessors with moral qualms. It is merely a matter of becoming acclimatized to an environment of nudity, and then we forget all about it.

The Venus de Milo dressed in the fashions of 1870

“Otherwise we may get like that little Florida town, where, last week, a number of statues were found clad in middy blouses and bloomers. These statues were owned by art students, and the garbing was done by the Christian Civic League, whose efforts on behalf of propriety may soon be spreading from town to town. It may come to San Francisco. In view of all these facts, we do not hesitate in saying that there is nothing more indecent than a statue in hasty and ill-considered attire. Fancy a Venus in hat, shoes and stockings, or Diana in a Mother Hubbard, or Juno in an opera cloak. The impulsive person who attempts to conceal nakedness in this fashion is frenetic more than fanatic, and supersensitive to sex thrills. Every pathologist has said so. But the whole affair is not so disturbing in contemplation as it is prospective. We don’t remember that the statues of the P. P. I. E. caused anybody to swoon. Some visitors came prepared to scream, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable, and found themselves none the worse. If we welcome art in all its vicissitudes, we may find ourselves all the better for it.”


What better article to kick off this blog? This addresses so many of my interests in one fell swoop. Fashion, social history, the way people thought then – and interestingly, how very little has changed since then in the way people think…

The P.P.I.E. was the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition that took place in San Francisco. I found a website devoted to the Expo with a page specifically about the sculptures including links to Gutenberg books on the topic.

Illustration notes:

The first image shows a life-drawing class in Aalto in 1920. The second image shows the Venus de Milo dressed in 1870 fashion by the London department store Jay’s. Both images are from WikimedIa Commons


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