The All-Too-Short History Of Women Artists Painting Naked Men

Or, why art history needs more women painters and nude dudes.

Warning: This post contains nudity and may not be appropriate for work. 

Phoebe Mills is a young multimedia artist based in Manchester, England. Early on in her artistic career, like many women artists familiar with the vast and storied archives of art history, Mills realized something: There is one traditionally established space for a young woman in the art world, and that space is on the canvas.

Women, in Mills's opinion, were more often contained within a frame than empowered to create the images that go in them. Furthermore, women in art history often appeared nude, the oil-painted-equivalent of airbrushed. Mills, understandably, was infuriated by this revelation. 

"The female nude is arguably the most dominant subject in art history and traditionally, the painter is male," Mills explained to The Huffington Post. "The male gaze, looking onto his female subject, enhances and masks certain areas of the female form in order to succumb to the visual desires of his male viewers." She cited the frequent smooth, nipple-less breasts coupled with intense, sultry stares.

"These depictions of female nudes are unrealistic and in my opinion, entirely insulting."

With her series "I AM A WOMAN PAINTER PAINTING NAKED MEN," Mills does her part to counteract centuries of artistically objectified female bodies. She does so, as the series title suggests, by painting naked dudes, lounging in classic art historical repose. Rendered in a Matisse-like style reminiscent of early 20th century paintings, Mills hints at just how long overdue these painted penises are. 

"My title for this series was a bit of a 'f**k you' to the male gaze, really. I began painting male models in poses reminiscent of these famous female nudes, but rather than concealing features that would be deemed unattractive beneath the male gaze, I glorified them." Celebrating every belly roll, pubic hair and pasty patch of skin, Mills affords her subjects what women subjects were long denied -- the freedom to be represented as they truly are. 

Much of Mills' other work similarly comments on the prejudices embedded throughout art history. In one series called "THE MEN," clay figures, donning speedos or nothing at all, sit suggestively amongst cacti, pool toys and the occasional beer. Beneath the wonderfully unflattering renderings, brief captions recall the crudely condescending tidbits of information often allotted to women in the mainstream media. One reads: "Dave lives at home with his mum and pet cat, Tibbles. Dave hopes that he will win 'Nuts Bedroom Babe of the Year 2014.'"

"'THE MEN' actually derive from an awful sexist 'lads mag' that I picked up from a Newsagents one afternoon," Mills said. "Like the female nudes in art history, the women portrayed in these magazines are done in such ways to satisfy the male viewer. The representation of women in this way is not only completely sexist but it is also very unrealistic, almost humorously so ... By giving each of them an extremely monotonous biography, I am making a point. The point being, 'What is the point in these gross magazines?'"

With her candy-colored artworks, Mills places herself in an artistic tradition that's slowly bridging the gap between the man parts and lady parts hanging on museum walls.

Surrealist painter Leonor Fini is credited with painting the first eroticized male nude in 1942, an opalesque, androgynous boy reclining on his back. Eunice Golden followed suit with her "Male Landscapes" series from 1968 to 1980, transforming the male form into a plane of sensual topography. Sylvia Sleigh, one of Mills' favorites, painted direct portraits of undressed '70s men in all their groovy glory.

"She paints honestly," Mills said, "and doesn’t shy away from painting areas of the body that could be deemed ‘less attractive’ -- body hair, tan lines and the penis." 

Contemporary artist Isabelle Bonzom also renders gentle male bodies in colored pencil and watercolor, representing their unclothed parts as both delicate and virile. Tala Madani takes a more playful approach, imagining a cartoonish world occupied only by middle-aged men, left blundering about in various states of undress farting, fighting and sustaining civilization. 

The roster of women painting nude men is, clearly, far too brief. Thankfully young artists like Mills are on the case, overturning traditions, shifting bleak statistics and inspiring the next generation of women artists, one painted penis at a time. 

See her work below:

  • Phoebe Mills
  • Phoebe Mills
  • Phoebe Mills
  • Phoebe Mills
  • Phoebe Mills
  • Phoebe Mills

Also on HuffPost:

Most Feminist Moments For Women In 2015