Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kalmakoff's goddess

I bet a lot of you know this painting--The Spring, or Egyptian Bathed in Vegetation by Nicholas Kalmakoff (1911). I've seen it pop up in various neopagan contexts, for obvious reasons. My initial reaction to it was mild repulsion. Although it is undeniably beautiful and brilliantly executed, I couldn't get past the idea that it fetishizes a black woman's body. It seemed generally rank with racism and sexism in a classic "noble savage" vein.

And yet...the more I look at it the more I like it.The soft detachment in the woman's pose, the rivulets of the spring (so suggestive of other fluids), the sense of dynamism from the foliage that curves above her head--it's all very moving somehow. I can't help wondering if my reaction to it is shaped by knowing something of the artist. If I believed the painter was a woman, perhaps I'd have seen it differently from the beginning. Maybe my own sexism is at work here.

What do you think of Kalmakoff's goddess?

Image from A World History of Art. Click on the image to enlarge it.


Anonymous said...

I like your honest self-enquiry here.

Until just now, I'd never seen this painting before, and I LOVE IT!

For me, it's a beautiful, dreamy representation of the cool, moist, limpid nature of Yin, and of woman.

Veering a little off course now - I have often considerd that all art is more honestly and freely interpreted if we know nothing of the artist.

chayaruchama said...

I think that- from a visual standpoint-

This lady is gloriously lush, almost voyeuristically, limpidly depicted.
The compositon is wonderful.

I DO think that one's viewpoint is skewed by knowledge of the artist's gender, predilections, etc.

I myself probably prefer Aboriginal cave paintings.
I find that the more raw the depiction, the more powerful the impact, for me ...

ginamused said...

I feel this work honors, rather than diminishes the woman's body.

BitterGrace said...

It's been interesting to read the comments here and on Facebook. I think there's no denying that there's a difference in perception depending on whether you know who painted it. But you're right, Chaya--the composition is just beautiful.