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.
Extended through July 23, 2018
May 3–July 23, 2018
West 21st Street, New York
Extended through July 9, 2016
April 14–July 9, 2016
Davies Street, London
June 13–July 26, 2014
Britannia Street, London
September 15–October 22, 2011
980 Madison Avenue, New York
April 15–May 15, 2010
Davies Street, London
April 5–May 3, 2003
West 24th Street, New York
Jenny Saville & Glen Luchford
January 12–February 9, 2002
October 2–November 6, 1999
Wooster Street, New York
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: 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.
Diana Widmaier Picasso, curator of the exhibition Desire, reflects on the history of eroticism in art.
Jenny Saville: Erota
Richard Calvocoressi discusses the inspiration behind the artist’s new body of work.
Egon Schiele—Jenny Saville
Lauren Mahony previews the Kunsthaus Zürich exhibition, which paired the works of Jenny Saville and Egon Schiele together.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019, 6:30–7:45pm
Royal Academy of Arts, London
On the occasion of the exhibition Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, Jenny Saville will speak with David Dawson, cocurator of the show. Saville will reflect on her relationship with self-portraiture and the effect it has had on her career, while Dawson will offer insight into Freud’s approach to the theme. The talk will be chaired by RA artistic director Tim Marlow. The event has reached capacity.
Jenny Saville, Self-Portrait (after Rembrandt), 2019 © Jenny Saville
Saturday, September 14, 2019, 2pm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Jenny Saville will discuss her artistic practice and influences with Justin Paton, the head curator of international art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The talk takes place on the occasion of the museum’s exhibition Here We Are, which features new acquisitions by women artists whose work addresses the intricacy, pathos, and power of human relationships. To attend the event, purchase tickets at ticketing.artgallery.nsw.gov.au.
Jenny Saville, Vis and Ramin II, 2018, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney © Jenny Saville
Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now
In partnership with English Heritage
Thursday, April 25, 2019, 6pm
Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London
Gagosian director and art historian Richard Calvocoressi will lead a tour of the exhibition Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London. Calvocoressi will take a look at postwar and contemporary masters of self-representation, anchoring the conversation to an important Rembrandt masterpiece included in the exhibition, Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665). The event has reached capacity. To join the wait list, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Two Circles, c. 1665, English Heritage, The Iveagh Bequest (Kenwood, London). Photo: Historic England Photo Library
Jenny Saville in
Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media
Through April 26, 2020
Foundling Museum, London
Through paintings, prints, photographs, objects, and clothing from the fifteenth century to the present day, this show aims to explore the different ways in which pregnancy was, or was not, represented in art and society; how shifting social attitudes have impacted depictions of pregnant women; how the possibility of death in childbirth brought additional tension to such representations; and how more recent images, which often reflect increased female agency and empowerment, still remain highly charged. Work by Jenny Saville is included.
Jenny Saville, Electra, 2012–19 © Jenny Saville. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates
February 20–May 17, 2020
This exhibition presents contemporary art that draws inspiration from historic masterpieces. A selection of paintings, plaster sculptures, drawings, graphic prints, and applied arts from Nationalmuseum’s vast collections are displayed in dialogue with contemporary objects. Work by Glenn Brown, Jeff Koons, Jenny Saville, and Cindy Sherman is included.
An exhibition dedicated to the memory of Michael Stanley
June 12–September 8, 2019
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, England
This exhibition, dedicated to the memory of former Ikon director Michael Stanley, is structured loosely on Rex Warner’s 1941 wartime novel The Aerodrome, a book that made a great impression on Stanley. The show features many of the artists he worked with, including Michael Craig-Martin, Thomas Houseago, and Jenny Saville.
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (shoe), 2009 © Michael Craig-Martin
June 18, 2018–March 15, 2019
George Economou Collection, Athens
This focused show presents an overview of Jenny Saville’s work dating from 1993 to 2015. It includes the important early work Cindy (1993), which introduced Saville’s concern with corporeality and anticipated her ongoing engagement with the manipulation of the body and the construction of a gendered identity.
Jenny Saville, Intertwine, 2011–14 © Jenny Saville