Exploring Art and Eroticism: A Timeline

A visual expression of physical passion and sensuality, art has always been a means for creative sexual exploration. Sexual desire is inherent to the human condition, being the glorified performance of the natural naked body. Throughout history, our hunger for depictions of human sexuality and eroticised bodies has been reflected within the art world. Here are some of the pieces that stand out within the art and eroticism timeline.

1. The French Bed:

On display in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Rembrandtís ëThe French Bedí created in 1646 is an etching and drypoint print which depicts a semi-clothed couple passionately making love in a four-poster bed. It is suggested that this couple could even be Rembrandt himself, with his lover Hendrickje Stoffels.

2. Ten Scenes of Lovemaking: 

A handscroll painting by the artist Katsukawa Shuníei, made during the Edo period in Japan, this piece can be found on display in the British Museum. A type of erotic Japanese Shunga art, often created as woodblock prints, illustrations, and paintings, the term Shunga in Japanese translates to ëspringí, a Japanese euphemism for sex. Representing idealised contemporary urban life, varying widely in its portrayal of sexuality, this Japanese Shunga art depicts luxurious sexual scenes and graphic depictions of sexual intercourse in colourful detail, demonstrating the artistic value of sexual pleasure. 

3. In Bed, the Kiss:

Created by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1892, and displayed in the Tate, In Bed, The Kiss portrays two women in bed, holding each other in their arms, and embracing in a kiss. It is a beautiful prejudice-free depiction of intimacy and desire, a post-impressionist snapshot of a passionate moment. The painting is considered by the artist as the height of pleasurable delight, capturing loveís tenderness in warm shades of red and yellow, surrounded by a softer pallet of grey, green, and blue.

4. Two Women Embracing:

Created by Egon Schiele, an Austrian expressionist figurative painter who found inspiration in the bedroom, this piece dates to 1915, and is on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Influenced by Gustav Klimtís paintings of sexual dreams, Schieleís work is known for its raw sexuality as the artist became popular for creating multiple nude self-portraits. In this piece, however, Schiele uses warm colours to create a beautiful, arousing, and erotic depiction of two women in love embracing. It is an example of sublime pornography, made from gouache, watercolour, and graphite on paper.

5. The Kiss:

A surrealist illustration created by Picasso in 1967, this piece is on display in the Tate, London. Open mouths and twisting tongues, while this piece does not appear explicitly pornographic, the intensity of this kiss, driven by deep sexual desire, is unmistakable. Especially considering that this piece was made by one of the most sexual artists of all time. An erotic motif, this graphite on paper drawing is a playful and experimental portrayal of sensuality, depicting in moments of unbroken line, a bearded man kissing a young woman.

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Lily Boag

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June 2022
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