Konstantin Somov – The Boxer (1933)

The fact that there are such few male nudes in art stands as proof that for the longest time women couldn’t access the art world. Even if they could, it would have been highly inappropriate for them to be alone in a room with a naked male model, let alone paint them for hours.

Some of the most compelling male nudes then, were often created by gay men, such as Michelangelo’s magnificent sculptures and the paintings of Russian artist Konstantin Somov. Somov did a number of male nudes, some endearing, some more casual, but always enhanced by an underlying sexuality and desire. Of all Somov’s nudes, I find The Boxer to be the most tantalizing due to the way it has been cropped, just as we’re beginning to notice the young man’s pubic hair. While it does not show everything, the suggestion alone increases the sexual tension.

Konstantin Somov - The Boxer
Konstantin Somov – The Boxer (1933), oil on canvas

With his ripped muscles and the boxing gloves behind him, we know we’re looking at a young athlete. His right hand is in a peculiar pose, like a teacher would hold a piece of chalk in front of the classroom. It gives him a more pensive look, suggesting that he’s not just brawn. His face also looks gentle, preoccupied and slightly sad. There is clearly more behind his tough exterior. The portrait itself seems more like an expression of affection and desire than the mere act of flaunting one’s muscular body.

9 thoughts on “Konstantin Somov – The Boxer (1933)

  1. Is this how (some) women feel when they look at nude women art? Suddenly I want to crop off the bottom quarter, and find myself liking the head and the boxing gloves the most. The right bicep is done really well (the shading/lighting) and the right hand, and here I wish he was wearing his boxing shorts. Also I like the handling of the picture frame.

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    1. Eric, I find it interesting that the mere suggestion of full nudity makes you feel uncomfortable, especially since the painting is more of a portrait than a nude. I doubt many women get a strong reaction looking at female nudes, we’re more or less taught to admire other women, to look at them, to acknowledge their beauty.

      I wrote this a few weeks ago, after the Chuck Close controversy, but ended up deleting the first few paragraphs. It’s a loaded, complex subject. At the time, there were a few calls to reconsider women’s depiction in nudes… and it got me thinking whether reconsidering how we look at men might balance things a little. It’s either that or turning into prudes.

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      1. First, being a little uncomfortable with something doesn’t mean I’m opposed to it. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of things. I have some typical guy things like I don’t like asking for directions. I can be shy going to a party where I don’t know anyone and I don’t have anything obviously in common (but then I might have a great time and not want to leave). I don’t like speaking in public (I get nervous). I’m uncomfortable going into a church, or a mosque. Also I’m so working class that I’m uncomfortable going anyplace where people are very rich and I’m not dressed well enough… In short, I think it’s perfectly OK to be uncomfortable with things. ‘Tis natural.

        Here, it’s not the “suggestion of nudity”, but rather the psychology. To give a funny example, most people are probably alright with their parents having sex, but would be uncomfortable watching a video of it. So, in this case, as in some of the Balthus paintings, I don’t share the artist’s sense of what is erotic, and therefore there is discomfort. The artist intends the viewer to be “turned on” to a degree. If it’s not your cup of tea, than your response might be like having a dish presented to you at a dinner with a kind of food your aren’t accustomed to.

        In China our boss at the university had a dinner for Western English teachers in which he (I believe deliberately) severed pig’s head. Either your mouth is going to water or you’re going to kinda’ cringe, me thinks. And that’s OK.

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        1. Oh, you don’t have to explain yourself. I understand the discomfort, most straight men react the same way. It’s nonetheless interesting how there’s no middle ground with these things.

          I, for one, am not particularly turned on by the painting. Must be the moustache that ruins it for me.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think there is middle ground. People are all over the spectrum, and then there are moods (or lack thereof), and people go through stages. But, generally, people are keyed as certain way and the same image with attract some and repel others.

            Related to this, I think that acknowledging these differences (while always being grounded in core shared humanity) is important to being open-minded. I realized I can’t just use myself, my feelings, my orientations, as a foundation of reality for anyone else. The fact that there are two biological, physical genders (excluding for the moment variations), is already enough to let people know that their perspective is fundamentally a partial one. It’s a lifetime of work to overcome innate biases, to be a more whole and compassionate person (and I think many, even most people aren’t even interested in that process unless forced to be). And I think the mind can overcome many of those hurdles, because the mind is a timeless, spaceless, bodiless, beingness. We routinely overcome the limitations of the body, even just to imagine ourselves in different scenarios, or in the future. And this is another function of art (and also of a new series I’m working on and will share shortly).

            Sorry about the rant. I’m having coffee and I’ve been trying to formulate these ideas for a while.

            Liked by 1 person

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