This artwork depicts the standing nude in a landscape just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The river separates two coastal islands between the harbour and the Atlantic Ocean. The early morning scene appears deceptively remote with no evidence of further habitation.
The artwork immediately reads as a view of a solitary figure before a stretch of water. However, as with many landscapes, it is also an abstract composition of horizontal bands of varying colors and widths. The basic configuration is accented by the sloping wedge of vegetation at the bottom. This angular patch of green gives way to the water in the lower right.
A ribbon of land, the far bank, separates the blue of the river from a hazy sky. A row of dark trees punctuate this divider. This strong horizontal, combined with the nearly-vertical woman, divide the composition into quadrants. The image’s strong formal structure provides a static atmosphere.
What is distinct about the structure is the presentation of the figure. The horizontals are abruptly interrupted by her body. Despite her nudity, this configuration presents her as imposing, rather than integral. The nude figure appears almost like a statue amongst the bright greens and blues of nature. Her stance seems frozen in mid-stride; a moment that seems still and windless.
Early morning sun strikes the side of her body, defining muscles and curves. She gazes past us, at some unseen destination. She appears unconcerned and unaffected at being visible. The vast panorama imparts the feeling that she is the lone inhabitant of this sanctuary. In the background is a river, and the two elements are separated by a patch of marsh grass. The green shoots of grass blur into the azure and grey of the river water.
Water is a frequent symbol in the visual arts and literature. In this artwork, Emily has just emerged from the river. The standing nude has just departed the water in the landscape behind her. The viewer has no direct evidence of her cleanse, but surmises it from the clues. Her slicked-back hair, direction of her travel, and glistening skin all tell a tale.
This artwork recalls oil paintings that might have depicted a mythological goddesses as a standing nude in a landscape or simply celebrated the female form in the wilderness.
Although Fahrenheit 451 is a story I can only remember in fragments, the title draws it’s inspiration from a scene in it: the symbolism of the river, cleansing and becoming a new person.
Take a look at a few more river-themed nude artworks.