Strange Beauty: Jenny Saville

Many people are passionate about Jenny Saville's work (British, b. 1970-), while others find it disturbing and quickly look away. In her paintings we see women as meat, their rolls of fat and blemished skin presented to the viewer without embarrassment, even with something like defiance. The color and texture of their flesh is painted with gutsy and painterly attention.

Saville often uses herself as a model, and although she is of normal weight she typically paints herself as obese. These nudes are partially a comment on a typical female's dissatisfaction with her body, and how distorted her own view of herself can be. Yet there is also an acceptance of imperfection, and a kind of "take that" attitude to men who want their women young and beautiful, or invisible. 

Jenny Saville was discovered at the age of 23, when influential art collector Charles Saatchi purchased all of the work on her graduate student wall. Now in her 40s, she has continued with the theme of the female body, and since becoming a mother has been inspired by motherhood and her young children's bodies as well. She and fashion photographer Glenn Luchford have collaborated on a series of prints made from her body pressed against sheets of glass, one of which is shown here as the final image:

Branded oil on canvas 7 by 6 feet 1992

Fulcrum oil on canvas 103 x 193"1999

Reverse oil on canvas, 84 x 96″ 2003-2004

The Mothers oil on canvas 2011 106.5 x 85 and 5/8 inches

Self Portrait (photograph collaboration between Jenny Saville and Glenn Luchford) 
If there's a narrative, I want it in the flesh.

I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies. 
I don't even know my own collectors. All the razzmatazz: the market, the auctions. I'm quite immune to it. I know it's part of the process. But when you get in the studio, none of that will help you to make a better painting."
 I just love paint. I think paint's beautiful. 
I never thought: I'm a girl, I can't do this. It was only when I got to art school that I realised that the great artists of the past were not women. I had a sort of epiphany in the library: where are all the women? Only then, as the truth dawned, did I start to feel pissed off. - Jenny Saville
 Jenny Saville


  1. I love that which is beautiful. I don't understand this at all.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Carol. I used to avoid looking at Jenny Saville's work, but lately find it compelling. Her work uses a traditionally "beautiful" subject in a new and disturbing way, and I think that one of art's purposes is to disturb.

  3. I was fortunate enough to see Saville's work at a show and was blown away by the colors and quality of her paint making. I became actually immersed into the power of her imagery and she made me feel involved in the awareness of my many reactions to each painting. Shock, revulsion and condemnation countered with fascination, excitement of paint and brilliantly used warm and cool colors - the sheer immensity of my reactions to her paintings and admiration for her single minded vision was a gift beyond compare. Thank you for including her. She will not be popular for many but there are others like me who will be grateful.

    1. Julie, I envy you for having seen her work in person, and really value hearing about your reactions. This was the first post on the Art Room's Facebook page that actually lost one of its followers!

  4. I have been a fan of Jenny Saville's work since I started studying the figure. My initial reaction was one of interested revulsion but soon came to appreciate was a masterful painter as well as story teller she is even if it is not "beautiful" in a traditional way. I too would LOVE to see her work in person, thanks for posting Taryn!

    1. I agree Dana- she's both a masterful painter, and a great storyteller. Well put!


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