Flesh and mothering in the work of Jenny Saville

The Mothers, oil an charcoal on canvas
Copyright 2011, Jenny Saville, All Rights reserved.

Well-known for her large-scale figurative paintings of nude women, Jenny Saville is a contemporary British artist who began to explore themes of maternity after becoming a mother herself. During the first decade of the 2000s, Saville sketched and painted several pieces related to the theme of mothers and children in which she depicts herself
holding her two infant sons. Influenced in part by Leonardo da Vinci’s monumental Renaissance cartoon of Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, Saville’s massive works show her seated naked and grasping the two babies on her lap, both of whom are also naked and squirm from her.

As in Saville’s other works, the charcoal lines of her sketches and colors of her paintings produce a frenetic dynamism in The Mothers. Through this dynamism, the artist captures the physicality, emotionality, and phenomenology of what it is to be a mother of young children. The religious references in the work, however, are fused with a representation of Saville and her children, making sacred the nonreligious bodies of the artist as mother with her children.