Looking as Women: The Paintings of Suzanne Valadon, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Frida Kahlo

Janet Burns


Many feminist critiques of the female nude in painting are premised on the argument that these images are produced solely for male pleasure and consumption. Shifting the focus to representations of the female nude by women artists allows a different interpretation. Suzanne Valadon, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Frida Kahlo are unusual as womenpainters in taking the nude as the central theme of their art. Their work poses some interesting questions about the relationship of women to sexual imagery. The author of this article investigates these questions — first, by looking at how their life histories may have influenced their relationship to painting the nude, then, by examining how their work represents women's experience. She argues that "looking as women" not only means bringing different kinds of experiences to the making of images; it is a conscious attempt to transform the conditions under which such images are produced and understood.

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