Royal Academy’s new exhibition of nudes has almost exactly equal gender equality

4 September 2018

Angelica Kauffman RA, Design (detail), 1778-80

The Royal Academy has just undergone an extensive restructure in celebration of its 250th anniversary; bringing the academic and historical institution up to speed with attempts to fairly represent genders in the gallery. In its upcoming exhibition of Renaissance art, there will be almost-exactly, equal representation between the paintings, drawings and sculptures depicting the female and male form.

Originally, the RA had only two female academicians, Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman, and it took over a century to recruit any more. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. The gallery’s director Tim Marlow confirmed this at the Royal Academy’s recent season launch, introducing its first makeshift gender quota in an attempt to align itself with the current times.

The Renaissance Nude is due to open in March 2019, exhibiting around 85 works documenting the notion of the nude from 1400 to 1530 in Europe. The idea of “the nude” is a-more-often-than-not derogatory, objectification of women seen through the male gaze. Feminist theorist, Laura Mulvey coined the term “male gaze” to describe the act of depicting women and the world from a masculine, heterosexual point of view. Particularly seen in art and literature, the male gaze represents women as sexual objects for the gratification of male viewers.

The radical feminist artists, Guerrilla Girls, famously created Do Women Have to be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?, highlighting how “less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female” in their 1989 screenprint. It has been 29 years since the Guerrilla Girls’s iconic statements ruffled the art world, but it’s better late than never that key institutions like the RA join the conversation surrounding gender equality.


Félix Vallotton: Bathing on a Summer Evening, 1892-93


Russell Westwood: Sir Henry Rushbury R.A. with students in the Life Room in the Royal Academy Schools

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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