Artist’s models are expected to pose nude. This is a given. If I had to put a percentage on it, I’d say that 90% of my posing is done in the nude, while the remaining 10% is clothed. I don’t include portrait sitting in the 10% because even though the model is clothed, it’s not a clothed pose per se. The artists are only painting the head and maybe the shoulders so the clothing is incidental and not a significant element of the composition. Models can show up for a portrait session and simply sit in their street clothes. But there are occasions when an actual clothed pose is expected.
I can’t speak for other models but I personally don’t enjoy clothed posing. This is not because I’m such a compulsive exhibitionist who must have my nude body gazed upon at all times. It’s because my wardrobe is apparently lacking in artist approved colors. I wear a lot of dark colors. If you were to look through my closet you’d see lots of black, dark blues, charcoal greys, and chocolatey browns. With my coloring these darker tones are most flattering on me. Even my bathing suit, which has been requested for modeling, is black. Hey, I like yellows and pinks as much as the next person. I just can’t wear them. Even red, a color I love, only looks right on me if it’s like cranberry or deep crimson. Orangey reds not so much. But I digress.
I pose weekly for a private art group that prefers clothed poses for painting. We recently finished a pose and have started making plans for a new one that we will begin in the new year. The lady who runs the group asked that I bring in clothing from my wardrobe so we could make a selection. Here’s the problem. I know these people. They like colors. Big, bold swathes of color, a la Matisse. Frankly, I don’t have anything like that except for a pair of purple sweatpants So the lady and I were discussing this and I wanted very much to provide an appropriate outfit to please the group. She said to me, “We want it to be YOU, Claudia! Wear your favorite nice outfit, something you would wear to a special event or on a date.” A very nice sentiment and I appreciated it. However, with that description, the chosen outfit would be a black Calvin Klein cocktail dress. Friends, I love this dress. It rocks, and I rock in it. It’s a dress I splurged on at Bloomingdale’s. So I told her about it and she responded, “No, no, no, nothing black. We don’t want black.” See the dilemma? My second choice, in accordance with her description, would then be a dark grey silk dress. It’s very pretty with simple, elegant lines. Her response to that one was, “Eh.” I was O for 2.
So you see that clothed pose requests are, for me, a bit of a nuisance. I want to satisfy artists’ needs, but my wardrobe is my personal wardrobe. What am I supposed to do? Nude is sooo much easier. I take my clothes off and we’re good to go. It’s great. But my question for artists is this: what is wrong with painting black? John Singer Sargent used tons of black. Madame X is a notable example. And here’s another from Sargent, Mrs. John Chapman, from 1893:
It’s not just this art group which has caused me this wardrobe problem. I once showed up for a job that was supposed to be nude but at the last minute they decided to do clothed. Since I was given no prior notice, all I had was the clothes on my back. Guess what I was wearing? A black sweater. And predictably the group wasn’t thrilled. “Don’t you have anything else?” they asked, as if I travel around with a fuschia tutu on a regular basis.
The Birds, by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes:
I have a theory about this. I’ve observed that black, and darks in general, appear all over artworks from past eras. It seems that bright palettes came into popularity with the Picasso/Matisse Modernist period. Then abstract expressionists took color to an extremely prominent level. Something has changed with the collective eyes of painters in that they can’t find visual stimulation anymore without the presence of blatant in-your-face colors or patterns. Would anyone today create a painting like Whistler’s Mother? I wonder.
It’s a most bizarre phenomenon. One time, on my break, I was chatting with an artist at her easel. As I sipped my coffee I looked down at her well-organized palette and asked, “Where’s your black?”. She made an incredulous expression and replied, “I don’t use black!”, as if I was crazy to even ask such a question.
In this piece, James Tissot took on a black dress AND a black umbrella. A Widow, from 1868:
If someone can explain to me this black-aversion among painters today I’d really appreciate it. I hope it’s just a phase because I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe! Or else, I may have to stipulate that, as a professional model, I am “nude only”.