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Jenny Saville

I have been following Jenny Saville, a British painter, on instagram for sometime now.

I find her work intriguing and sometimes grotesque. But mostly intriguing.

She has been credited for reinventing figure painting for contemporary art.

Figure 1 shows her painting Propped, which was sold by Sotheby's Auction House in London for over NZ$18 million, breaking the record for the most expensive painting sold by a living artist.

Figure 1. Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992.

She paints a lot of faces and bodies and flesh on large scale canvases.

Saville applies oil paint in heavy layers which become as visceral as flesh itself.

Her work reveals a deep awareness, both intellectual and sensory, of how the body has been represented over time and across cultures. One may perceive echoes of Titian, Venus of Urbino (c. 1532 ).1

As a woman artist it is important that I am aware of these historical and contemporary perspectives and am able to speak to similarities and differences in my own work.

I feel the work in figure 2 below references an earlier work I discussed, by Michelangelo, Unfinished cartoon for a Madonna and Child ( c.1525). There are strong similarities.

I can see how Saville has created a contemporary version. Particularly with the charcoal graphics over the top, in contrast to the traditional sketch left exposed from underneath.

Figure 2. Jenny Saville, The Mothers , 2011.

In figure 3 you can see how Saville has worked with an old Leonardo sketch, experimenting with the figure in its multiplicity, various compositions and jumbled limbs. This is an interesting concept I have been working with as well.

Figure 3. Jenny Saville, Reproduction drawing IV ( after the Leonardo cartoon ), 2010.

In figure 4 below, you can see more jumbled limbs, with a lot of flesh as well as faces.

I draw and extend on this sensorial, felt and embodied composition.

I can identify with Saville's use of the bodies as her painterly language.

Figure 4. Jenny Saville, Compass, 2013.

  1. Gagosian, " Jenny Saville- Works," accessed June 21, 2022,



  1. Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992, oil on canvas, 213.4cm x 182.9cm , Gagosian Gallery, New York, accessed June 22, 2022,

  2. Jenny Saville, The Mothers, 2011, oil on charcoal and canvas, 270cm x 220cm, Gagosian Gallery, New York, accessed June 22, 2022,

  3. Jenny Saville, Reproduction drawing IV ( after the Leonardo cartoon), 2010, charcoal on paper, 194cm x 145cm, Gagosian Gallery, New York , accessed June 22, 2022,

  4. Jenny Saville, Compass, 2013, charcoal and pastel on paper mounted on board, 153cm x 200cm, Gagosian Gallery, New York, accessed June 22, 2022,


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