It was the relationship between art and human sensuality, a problem that worried the Victorians and has baffled all subsequent generations. The question at issue is nude painting. Ruskin – who wrote of ‘anatomy’, scarcely ever using the word ‘nude’ – believed that obsession with nakedness had damaged such a great mind as that of Michelangelo. Perhaps he thought similarly about Turner, especially since the English artist’s figural drawings are so weak, sometimes inept. They are indeed a record of failure. The superb landscapist had always wished to join the Old Masters through grand figurative painting. The real theme of Warrell’s selection of drawings is of Turner’s frustration in preparing for that endeavour. His nudes on paper are impatient with the demands of the Royal Academy life class, yet do not go beyond the limits of instruction. However, we do see an occasional more relaxed view of the model’s limbs; and here and there a glimpse of pubic hair, which cheers the eye because of disobedience to the chilliness of marble.
more from Tim Hilton at Literary Review here.