Art History Lab

Uncovering the Bold and Visceral Art of Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville: Challenging the Status Quo

Jenny Saville is a British painter known for her bold and visceral depictions of the human form. Her work challenges traditional representations of beauty, particularly those that cater to the male gaze.

In this article, we will take a closer look at Saville’s art and career, as well as some of her most important paintings. Jenny Saville’s Challenge to the Male Gaze

The male gaze refers to the way in which visual arts, literature, and other forms of media depict women from a heteronormative, male-centric perspective.

In her art, Saville questions this norm by portraying the female form in an unidealized and unromanticized way. She presents bodies that are at once recognizable and unexpected, subverting the traditional expectations of female beauty.

Saville’s paintings often feature large-scale depictions of figures that are both realistic and abstract. Her unique style is informed by the great paintings of the Renaissance masters as well as the works of contemporary artists.

She uses thick brushstrokes and bold colors to create an intense and visceral atmosphere, inviting the viewer to engage with her subjects on a deeper level. Jenny Saville’s Early Life and Education

Born in Cambridge, England, in 1970, Saville was exposed to art from an early age.

Her uncle was a professional artist, and his influence encouraged her own artistic ambitions. After attending a local comprehensive school, Saville received a scholarship to study at the Glasgow School of Art.

It was here that she began to develop her unique style. After Glasgow, Saville moved to London where she was discovered by the legendary art collector Charles Saatchi.

Saatchi began to collect her work, which brought her national attention. This helped establish her as one of the leading artists of the “Young British Artists” group of the late 1990s.

Jenny Saville’s Mature Period

During the 1990s, Saville’s work gained international recognition after a visit to the United States. Here, she was exposed to the ideas of feminist scholars and artists, which informed her practice.

Perhaps the most significant influence on Saville’s work at this time was the rise of plastic surgery. She began to incorporate ideas from the medical field, particularly how it intersects with beauty standards, into her paintings.

Her interest in this subject would go on to inform some of her most famous works including Propped (1992) and Plan (1993). Jenny Saville’s Current Work

Today, Saville lives and works in the UK.

Her art has continued to evolve, and she has expressed a particular interest in the subject of motherhood. She has noted that becoming a mother has allowed her to see her art in a new light, and she has been exploring themes of motherhood and ancient myth in her recent work.

Notably, Saville’s body of work has been featured in a number of major exhibitions including shows at the Gagosian Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Important Jenny Saville Paintings

Propped (1992) is considered one of Saville’s most significant works. It is a self-portrait that subverts traditional depictions of women by showing her figure from the perspective of the male gaze.

The work sold for a record-breaking $12.4 million at auction in 2018. Plan (1993) is another important work that explores the interplay between medicine, beauty, and the ideal female form.

In this painting, Saville depicts the contours of a body that has undergone liposuction. Her crude and delicate brushwork creates a contrasting texture that is both unsettling and captivating.

Passage (2004-2005) is a painting that explores themes of gender identity and fluidity. The outstretched figure in the painting suggests a sense of freedom and self-discovery, inviting the viewer to question the societal norms that limit our perception of the human form.

Mothers (2011) is part of Saville’s Continuum series. It features two heavily pregnant women who are depicted in a state of chaos, referencing the Nativity scene.

Saville’s use of color and texture creates an almost otherworldly atmosphere, inviting the viewer to delve into the complex emotions that come with the experience of motherhood.


Jenny Saville has established herself as one of the most significant voices in contemporary art. Through her work, she has challenged traditional beauty standards and representations of the human form.

Her unique style and powerful depictions continue to inspire and captivate viewers around the world.

Reading Recommendations for Fans of Jenny Saville

Jenny Savilles work has captivated many viewers seeking an experience that transcends traditional beauty. Her visceral depictions of the human form challenge societal norms and invite empathy and contemplation.

In this article, we will provide a brief overview of some of the most prominent books on Jenny Saville, featuring in-depth discussions of her recent works, comprehensive monographs, and abstract representation in contemporary painting. “Jenny Saville: Oxythynchus” (2015) by John Elderfield

This book explores Savilles recent output, characterized by a blend of mediums and a complex imagery of layered bodies.

Elderfield, the author, was a former chief curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and is an established art historian. He provides an in-depth exploration of the themes and forms that inform Saville’s work and situates it within the contemporary art landscape.

“Jenny Saville” (2018) by Richard Calvocoresi and Mark Stevens

This comprehensive monograph, published in collaboration with the artist, features several unpublished paintings and exclusive insights into her practice. The authors explore the relevance and impact of Saville’s work, providing a valuable resource for art enthusiasts, critics, and collectors.

Savilles unconventional yet powerful approach to painting and the human figure is aptly captured in this seminal book. “Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World” (2019) by John Seed

The artworks of Saville are featured in this thought-provoking book, which dissects a rising trend in contemporary painting, disrupted realism.

Seed, the author, sheds light on the various approaches artists use to reimagine the relevance of painting in the current art world, exploring the relationship between abstraction and representation. The book serves as a visual guide to the works of leading painters working in this style and highlights the pivotal influence of Saville’s practice on abstract representation.

Jenny Saville’s Importance

Jenny Savilles art has had a profound impact on art and culture, which extends beyond her impressive auction sales. Her complex approach to the female figure and her unique painting style challenges viewers’ apprehension of traditional beauty.

Below, we explore two of the critical contributions of Saville’s work to the contemporary art world. Jenny Saville’s Complex Approach to the Female Figure

Saville’s paintings explore the often-contradictory notions of vulnerability and power, which are central to female identity, by subverting traditional depictions of the female form.

The fluidity of her figures and the rawness of her emotions invite empathy and reflection among viewers. Through her art, Saville taps into a collective experience of self-perception and the ways societal norms inform our understanding of self and others.

Her fleshy paintings often sidestep the conventions of idealized beauty and present the human form as it is, layered with complexity and nuance. By presenting an unfiltered image of the body, Saville takes a bold step against the objectification of women and challenges the influence of the male gaze on representations of the female body.

Reimagining the Female Nude and Painting as a Medium

Saville’s work has reinvigorated and subverted the genre of the female nude, reimagining the possibilities of painting as a medium. Her practice defies the conventional distinction between abstraction and representation, blurring the boundary between figuration and abstraction, and presenting a unique perspective on the human form.

Saville’s practice makes it clear that painting has the potential to be as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago. Her work embodies the power of the medium in the modern world by exploring the complexities of contemporary experience and reflecting on our collective beliefs and perceptions.


Jenny Saville’s art offers a unique insight into the complexities of the human condition through her visceral paintings that explore intimacy, vulnerability, power and self-perception. Her work subverts traditional beauty standards and challenges traditional modes of representation.

Through her work, Saville has reinvigorated the genre of the female nude and reimagined the possibilities of painting in the contemporary art landscape. These book recommendations provide an in-depth exploration of her oeuvre and serve to complement her visionary contributions to the art world.

Jenny Saville’s art and career have had a profound impact on the contemporary art world. Through her visceral paintings that challenge traditional beauty standards, she has reinvigorated the genre of the female nude and reimagined the possibilities of painting in the modern art landscape.

This article explores Saville’s challenge to the male gaze, her early life and education, recent work, and important paintings. Additionally, it provides a set of reading recommendations for exploring her work further.

Whether it’s through her complex approach to the female figure or her reimagining of the possibilities of painting as a medium, it is clear that Saville’s work continues to captivate audiences in the modern art world and encourage us to reflect on our beliefs and perceptions.

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