The Reclining Nude

BookThe Reclining Nude

The Reclining Nude

Agnès Varda, Catherine Breillat, and Nan Goldin

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 65


October 19th, 2019

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The figure of a woman reclining, in repose, displayed, abandoned, fallen, asleep, or dreaming, returns in the work of women filmmakers and photographers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Filmmakers Agnès Varda and Catherine Breillat, and American photographer working in Paris, Nan Goldin, return to the paintings of Titian, Velázquez, Goya, Courbet, and others, re-imagining, and re-purposing, their images of female beauty, display, (auto)eroticism, and intimacy. This book, a sensuous evocation of these feminist works, claims a female-identified pleasure in looking. The artists explored align images of repose and sensuality with other images of horizontality and proneness, of strong emotional content, images of erotic involvement, of vulnerability, of bodily contortion, of listlessness, grief, and depression. The reclining nude is for all three artists a starting point for a reflection on the relation of film, projections, and still photography, to painting, and a sustained re-imagining of the meanings conjured through serial returns to a particular pose. This book claims that the image of the reclining nude is compelling, for female-identified artists – and for all allied in feeling and picturing femininity – in the sensitive, ethically adventurous, politically complex feminist issues it engages. The reclining nude is an image of passivity, of submission, of hedonism. It allows thought about passivity as pleasure, about depression and grief figured posturally, about indolence as a form of resistance and anarchy. Through this image, female-identified artists have claimed freedom to offer new focus on these extremes of emotion. They are re-imagining horizontality.


‘This book is a deep and far-reaching exploration of the sensory impressions, affective impact, and gender-ideological import of films and photographs by three women—Agnès Varda, Catherine Breillat, and Nan Goldin. The author wisely focuses on an important but underexamined area of these women’s work: images of the reclining nude.'
Douglas Keesey, California Polytechnic State University

Author Information

Emma Wilson is a Professor of French Literature and the Visual Arts at the University of Cambridge.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
The Reclining Nude15
Agnès Varda51
Catherine Breillat115
Nan Goldin153
India Song211