Human perception of the body is so acute and knowledgeable that the smallest hint of a body can trigger recognition.
In her depictions of the human form, Jenny Saville transcends the boundaries of both classical figuration and modern abstraction. Oil paint, applied in heavy layers, becomes as visceral as flesh itself, each painted mark maintaining a supple, mobile life of its own. As Saville pushes, smears, and scrapes the pigment over her large-scale canvases, the distinctions between living, breathing bodies and their painted representations begin to collapse.
Born in 1970 in Cambridge, England, Saville attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1988 to 1992, spending a term at the University of Cincinnati in 1991. Her studies focused her interest in “imperfections” of flesh, with all of its societal implications and taboos. Saville had been captivated with these details since she was a child; she has spoken of seeing the work of Titian and Tintoretto on trips with her uncle, and of observing the way that her piano teacher’s two breasts—squished together in her shirt—became one large mass. While on a fellowship in Connecticut in 1994, Saville was able to observe a New York City plastic surgeon at work. Studying the reconstruction of human flesh was formative in her perception of the body—its resilience, as well as its fragility. Her time with the surgeon fueled her examination into the seemingly infinite ways that flesh is transformed and disfigured. She explored medical pathologies; viewed cadavers in the morgue; examined animals and meat; studied classical and Renaissance sculpture; and observed intertwined couples, mothers with their children, individuals whose bodies challenge gender dichotomies, and more.
A member of the Young British Artists (YBAs), the loose group of painters and sculptors who came to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Saville reinvigorated contemporary figurative painting by challenging the limits of the genre and raising questions about society’s perception of the body and its potential. Though forward-looking, her work reveals a deep awareness, both intellectual and sensory, of how the body has been represented over time and across cultures—from antique and Hindu sculpture, to Renaissance drawing and painting, to the work of modern artists such as Henri Matisse, Willem de Kooning, and Pablo Picasso. In the striking faces, jumbled limbs, and tumbling folds of her paintings, one may perceive echoes of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (c. 1532), Rubens’s Christ in the Descent from the Cross (1612–14), Manet’s Olympia (1863), and faces and bodies culled from magazines and tabloid newspapers. Saville’s paintings refuse to fit smoothly into an historical arc; instead, each body comes forward, autonomous, voluminous, and always refusing to hide.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Featuring Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Simon Schama, and the Aaron Diehl Trio
For the third episode of the online event series Gagosian Premieres, Jenny Saville will celebrate her exhibition Elpis at Gagosian New York with painter Nathaniel Mary Quinn and historian Simon Schama, with a performance by the Aaron Diehl Trio, who will play music by Philip Glass as well as a new composition inspired by the work on view.
Extended through July 23, 2018
May 3–July 23, 2018
West 21st Street, New York
Jenny Saville: A cyclical rhythm of emergent forms
An exhibition curated by Sergio Risaliti, director of the Museo Novecento, Florence, pairs artworks by Jenny Saville with artists of the Italian Renaissance. On view across that city at the Museo Novecento, the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Museo degli Innocenti, and the Museo di Casa Buonarroti through February 20, 2022, the presentation features paintings and drawings by Saville from the 1990s through to work made especially for the occasion. Here, Risaliti reflects on the resonances and reverberations brought about by these pairings.
Jenny Saville: Painting the Self
Jenny Saville speaks with Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, about her latest self-portrait, her studio practice, and the historical painters to whom she continually returns.
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2020
The Winter 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Jenny Saville’s Prism (2020) on its cover.
Five Preoccupations: Jenny Saville
Jenny Saville shares a selection of the books, films, and more that have been her companions in the quiet of the shutdowns in recent months and as she looks ahead to a new exhibition next year.
Jenny Saville and Nicholas Cullinan
Jenny Saville speaks with Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, from her studio. They discuss portraiture, her latest work, and her art historical influences, as well as the shifting nature of perception in the age of digital communication.
Sally Mann and Jenny Saville
The two artists discuss being drawn to difficult subjects, the effects of motherhood on their practice, embracing chance, and their shared adoration of Cy Twombly.
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019
The Spring 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Red Pot with Lute Player #2 by Jonas Wood on its cover.
Jenny Saville Now
On the occasion of a major survey of the artist’s work, Dr. Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, studies the evolution of Jenny Saville’s practice.
Jenny Saville: Ancestors
In this video, Jenny Saville speaks about Ancestors and her new works currently on view at Gagosian, West 21st Street, New York.
Jenny Saville and Dr. Simon Groom
Jenny Saville discusses the beginnings and evolutions of her painting practice with Dr. Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. She speaks candidly on her endless passion for painting the figure, the beauty of struggle, motherhood, and the artists that have inspired her.
Jenny Saville on Willem de Kooning
In 2013, the exhibition Willem de Kooning: Ten Paintings, 1983–1985 explored the legendary artist’s late work. For the catalogue accompanying the presentation, Jenny Saville spoke on the gestures and elemental elegance of these paintings.
The Art of Wishes 2021
Monday, October 11, 2021
Natural History Museum, London
Founded by philanthropist and Make‐A‐Wish patron Batia Ofer, the Art of Wishes is a charitable initiative that brings the international art community together to raise funds for Make-A-Wish UK, a nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of children with critical illnesses. The fourth annual Art of Wishes benefit auction and gala will take place at the Natural History Museum in London. The auction will be hosted on Artsy, with a preview of the artworks open to the public from October 2 through 8 at Sotheby’s London. More than twenty works by leading international artists such as Georg Baselitz, Jenny Saville, Kon Trubkovich, and others will be included.
Georg Baselitz, Schlafzimmer, 2021 © Georg Baselitz. Photo: Jochen Littkemann
Le Chiavi della Città di Firenze
Jenny Saville has been given the keys to Florence, Italy, by the city’s mayor, Dario Nardella, in a special ceremony on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. The prestigious honor was conferred on the occasion of Saville’s multipart exhibition at five museums in Florence, which places her paintings and drawings in dialogue with masterworks of the Italian Renaissance and is on view through February 20, 2022.
Jenny Saville being awarded le Chiavi della Città di Firenze (Keys of the City of Florence) by Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella, Salone dei Cinquecento, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy, 2021
Jenny Saville and twenty-three other leading figures in the arts, education, communications, and law were photographed wearing masks for Masked, a portrait series by Joanna Vestey. The limited-edition prints are being sold through March 31, 2021, to raise funds for AT The Bus, a charity that provides art therapy programs to school-age children in Oxfordshire and London out of a refitted double-decker bus. To purchase a print, visit www.atthebus.org.uk.
Joanna Vestey, Jenny Saville RA, December 2020, 2020 © Joanna Vestey
La notizia del futuro
December 1, 2021–March 27, 2022
Museo di Palazzo Pretorio, Prato, Italy
Curated by Francesco Bonami, this exhibition, whose subtitle translates to The News of the Future, places painting, sculpture, video, and sound works by twenty-two women artists in dialogue with the Museo di Palazzo Pretorio’s permanent collection. The featured works examine the concept of “annunciation” and underline the centrality of the female subject in ancient and contemporary narratives Work by Huma Bhabha and Jenny Saville is included.
Jenny Saville, Fate 3, 2018 © Jenny Saville. All rights reserved, DACS 2022. Photo: Mike Bruce
September 30, 2021–February 27, 2022
Various venues in Florence, Italy
Jenny Saville is the subject of an exhibition project conceived and curated by Sergio Risaliti, director of the Museo Novecento, in collaboration with four other major museums in Florence: Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo degli Innocenti, and Museo di Casa Buonarroti. The multipart exhibition places Saville’s paintings and drawings in dialogue with masterworks of the Italian Renaissance, including some of Michelangelo’s greatest masterpieces, offering a revealing encounter between the contemporary and the historical. Correspondences include the monumentality of Saville’s paintings—a distinctive feature of her figurative language since her early career—as well as her research focused on the body and flesh of her naked subjects.
Jenny Saville, Study for the Eyes of Argus, 2021 (detail) © Jenny Saville. All rights reserved, DACS 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates
Person of Interest
January 31, 2020–July 3, 2021
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Exploring nuances in portraiture from the late nineteenth century to today—and testing the very definition of the genre—Person of Interest presents depictions of the literal and abstracted body from Sheldon’s rich holdings and selected loans. This exhibition asks open-ended questions about self-fashioning, cultural memory, gender identity, and the performance of identity. In doing so, it prompts conversations about race and representation, institutional power, and lived experiences. Work by Nathaniel Mary Quinn and Jenny Saville is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Lil’ Barbara, 2017 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
The Human Body
April 29–June 26, 2021
Hill Art Foundation, New York
This exhibition, curated from the Hill Collection by Karel Schampers, examines the human body through figurative work from the last five hundred years. The installation spans two floors and visitors are encouraged to view the works from different levels and vantage points, creating a dialogue across diverse periods and mediums. The foundation’s collection of Renaissance bronzes is featured alongside works by artists such as Francis Bacon, Richard Prince, Jenny Saville, Rudolf Stingel, and Andy Warhol.
Installation view, The Human Body, Hill Art Foundation, New York, April 29–June 26, 2021. Artwork, left to right: © Jenny Saville, © Richard Prince, © Ron Mueck, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens. Photo: Matthew Herrmann