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A Blonde

Kenyon Cox1891

National Academy of Design

National Academy of Design

"A Blonde" was exhibited at the Society of American Artists' annual exhibition of 1892, where it was the subject of almost universal critical scorn. Despite Americans' increasing appetite for art influenced by contemporary European aesthetics, Cox's non-allegorical nude was considered vulgar by art critics. They found fault with the work for various reasons; for its lack of a trace of allegory, "clinical" tone, and the prominent ridge of the model's spine. The most vehement attack appeared in "The Studio", where its merit as a demonstration piece was disputed: "Mr. Cox's . . . 'Blonde' is not even praiseworthy from the class-room demonstrator's point of view. The model is curled up most uncomfortably on a sofa, and looks more like an embryo with its too big head and small legs, than a finished human. It is certainly a very ugly figure, and puzzles us to guess why it was painted." In 1905, the painter and art writer Samuel Isham looked back on the art scene in New York of the 1880s and early 1890s and remarked that "Almost the only man to paint the nude as it is understood in Europe . . . was Kenyon Cox. In the years following his return from Europe he painted repeatedly large life-size studies of the same general type as the Études of Salons, and painted them well and learnedly. More than almost anyone else he represents the academic traditions as they are understood abroad. He knows the great work of the past; not only has he seen and admired, but he has studied and analyzed it with exceptional sympathy and clarity. . . . There was in his nudes . . . a conscious striving for the qualities which may properly be called academic, rhythm of line and mass, rendering of form in accord with the old traditions."

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