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Art History’s Best Known Curvy Girls
Contemporary artists have begun to paint the plus-size body once again, following decades of cultura...
Art Girls Jungle 24 Aug 2021

We’re celebrating 8 of our favourite depictions of plus-size and curvy models

For many curvy girls, Art History can be a place for solace: pre- Diet Culture’s big boom in the 1900s, the women depicted in art were often larger whether they be ladies of luxury or goddesses. To be fat was a symbol of your wealth and health.

Contemporary artists have begun to paint, draw, and sculpt the plus-size body once again, following decades of cultural fatphobia that has shamed these body types into the background. 

Whether you’re into body neutrality, body positivity, or are on your journey to having a better relationship with your physical form – we can all agree that no body should be made to feel less-than.

We’ve rounded up some of our favourite depictions of curvy women through art history and today. 

Lucian Freud – Benefits Supervisor Sleeping

This 1995 oil on canvas work shows Sue Tilley, a Job Centre supervisor and favourite artists’ model of Lucian Freud. With one hand over the top of the sofa, and the other underneath her breast, Tilley is entirely at ease and in a deep sleep. The painting once held the title for the highest price paid for a painting by a living artist.

Lydia Pettit – Big Sexy

Lydia Pettit is a London-based artist from the Maryland. Her paintings and thread-work are largely autobiographical and show herself in beautifully unabashed poses. Big Sexy shows Pettit in a body suit in the same bright, geometric pattern as the material laid beneath her, demonstrating her curvy hips, stretch marks, and pubic hair.

Fernando Botero – Woman With Fruit

This bronze sculpture in Bamburg, Germany shows one of Botero’s typically rotund figures, resting on her front and holding a spherical fruit. The artist isn’t plus-sized himself, and his figurative style can potentially be viewed as is voyeuristic or as making mock of fat communities. However, Botero insists that he only paints ‘volume’ and ‘sensuality, and this piece has a real elegance and grace to it.

Elisa Valenti – Face Yourself

Elisa Valenti is a New York based, self-taught painter who uses her own body and the bodies of other plus-sized women as inspiration for her often stylistically Fauvist compositions. ‘Face Yourself’ is one of her self-portraits, and the caption accompanying it as a post on her Instagram reads: “I paint the things in life I find attractive; bodies I believe need nothing more than the skin they’re in to be dignified and beautiful.”

Jenny Saville – Strategy

“What is beauty? Beauty is usually the male image of the female body. My women are beautiful in their individuality” said Jenny Saville on her work during a 1994 interview. The figure in the Strategy triptych looks down at us – and makes quite the impact at 9 feet tall and 21 feet wide – stridently ignoring the ‘rules’ of how women should meet the male gaze.

Titian – Venus with an Organist

In this 1550 work by Titian, Venus reclines on a bed and pets a jumping dog at her side. She exudes power and keeps on her gold and pearl jewellery as she ignores the perving gaze of the musician. The organist turns to stare at the goddess, and busies his hands with his “musical instrument”. Filthy.

Zinaida Serebriakova – Bath-house

Now, these women are not plus-sized by any stretch of the imagination, but we wanted to include them in this list for being a refreshing (if not sadly rare) example of unposed, relaxed women letting their bodies fall, fold, and stretch as they do in real life. Zinaida Serebriakova was born into a wealthy, artistic family and often showed women’s lived reality in early 20th Century Ukraine.

Francisco Zuniga – Mujeres Caminando

This 1982 lithograph by Zuniga shows four women of colour from South America as they go about their day. Each figure carries her weight differently, and it feels surprisingly rare to see depictions of larger bodies when they aren’t naked. Zuniga loved to portray the BIPOC population of Latin America and his works give representation to a largely underrepresented group in the world of fine art.

Author: Verity Babbs

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