Boudoir Photography - 100 Years
Updated: Jan 9
Boudoir today has evolved into an art form that is is more than just women posing in their lingerie; it has evolved into a sophisticated art form that is raw yet classy, tantalising yet feminine, glamours yet graceful, fashionable yet conventional.
Boudoir today is more than just a genre of portrait photography, it an approach to intimate photography that involves, high level of customer consultation, care, psychology, direction, marketing and photographic skills that master sensual lighting, retouching and posture.
Unsurprisingly, a boudoir shoot today empowers its subject. It does so by supporting everyday people see themselves in a new light, modern, daring, graceful, sensual and in control.
Let’s take a walk through the ages and explore the evolution of boudoir photography over the last 100 years. But before we do so let us understand where origins of boudoir art and what it was like before photography.
Boudoir and its etymology
The word boudoir originated from the French word ‘bouder’, which means to sulk or pout. The etiquette of the day demanded that one did not sulk in public, and as such, they would retreat into their private bathing and changing suite, their ‘boudeur’; the English equivalent was Bower. Over time, the boudoir became a private sitting room, dressing room or bedroom, an inner sanctum where women could retreat to and be themselves. It is unsurprising that today, boudoir photography is about empowering women, about women coming into their own and doing so without fear of judgement.
Nude and boudoir art before photography
Sculptures and paintings of naked and barely clothed men and women have existed in the world of art since the beginning.
Nude sculptures of females have been in existence since the Middle Paleolithic Ages, 25,000 BCE, with figures having beautiful facial features and many with exaggerated sexual organs and buttocks.
From Early Civilisation, which is marked by the use of clothing to cover nakedness, and which depicts affluence, nudity in painting and sculpture depict many emotions and feeling and messages. Early Egyptian nude art represents abject poverty and often used to describe enslavement and humiliation of vanquished armies.
Romans used heroic nudity to depict heroes, deities or divine beings. Greeks used nudity to illustrate and honour their athletes and heroes and to marvel at the beauty of the human physique. Indian cultures created nude statues on their temples to extoll the virtues of fertility and procreation.
The Middle Ages and rise of and Christain values of chastity and celibacy discouraged the depiction of nudity, and completely nude figures all but disappeared during this period from European Art.
During The Renaissance period, with the rediscovery of classical art, the nude started making a come back to art, first in sculpture, Donatello’s Bronze of David, and a few decades later in paintings, with Botticelli’s, ‘Birth of Venus’, 1486. Giorgione's ‘The Dresden Venus’, 1510, marks the return of the reclining female form to European Painting. Titian, who incidentally, was responsible for completing the Dresden Venus, finishing the created many other reclining nudes that while drawing on ancient statuary form, proportions and geometry, highlighted the sensuality of the female form.
During the Early Modern Period, (1500-1800) with the female form being presented more naturally, rather than biblically or statutory, female sexuality and sensuality became more commonplace in paintings. This age shepherded in beginnings of the sensual women painting, with a handful of artists and their affluent subjects in their boudoirs, leading the way. Some of the more famous paintings include Titian’s, ‘Venus of Urbino’, 1538 and Rembrandt’s ‘Bathsheba at Her Bath’, 1654.
The Modern Era, ushered in an age of freedom and boldness in thinking and art, and also the emancipation of women. All of this perhaps lead to boudoir paintings, becoming more and more popular and commonplace. By the 1840s, when practical photography was still in its infancy, it was not surprising that nude photography followed the styles of the art form. By the 1850s, with the introduction of coloured plates in France, the art form of nude photography and the realism of colour give these photographs an erotism, which led to their demise in France by the middle of the decade. However, the 1860s saw an increasing number of American celebrities like actresses Adah Issac Menken and burlesque dancer Lydia Thompson use intimate and sensual photography to advertise their roles and career and portray themselves as sex symbols. During the 1870s, the trend of selling Art Nudes to Art students continued in France, with photographers like Gaudenzio Marconi. However, the fact that photography allowed from cheap copies encouraged the underground market of nude pictures and the pornographic market.
By the early 1900’s, nude boudoir paintings had become very popular and established amongst the more affluent and liberated, as can be seen from the art pieces available from well-known artists, including Frantisek Kupka, Henri Matisse, Jacek Yerka, Julius LeBlanc Stewart, and many others.
The beginning of the 20 century, saw photography becoming a mainstream art form, photographers like Heinrich Kuhn, whose works and many photographic techniques, including autochrome a colour process, helped make photography more popular. The invention of cheaper, safer film rolls, and more portable cameras, made photography even more accessible and widespread. Photographer, Léon Gimpel, perhaps the first person whose colour photograph was published, possibly, helped make photojournalism an attractive and viable career choice. Before the World War broke out, Art Nude Photography was set to break into the world of boudoir paintings.
Boudoir Photography from 1920 to 2020
Inevitably, photographic artist to would join the mele of the boudoir revolution.
By now, we know that boudoir has existed even way before its pinup craze in the ‘40s. It became popular in the 1800s, only to die down in the first decade of the 1900s simply because of its daring and sensual undertones.
The prohibition in the ‘20s, however, has brought back the generation’s passion for sexual liberation. At the same time, boudoir photography also serves as a rebellion against the traditionalist perspective of authorities at such time.
The ‘20s banned more than just alcohol--it illegalized nudity and boldness in art and photographs as well. This particular prohibition was meant to stamp out the boudoir and everything it represents, but it only served to empower more artists and their muses to pursue it.
One such artist was Albert Arthur Allen. We have him to thank for the modern boudoir photography that we know today. During his time, this French artist had his muses pose naked in ornate backgrounds, capturing beauty in its most raw form.
Eventually, the prohibition was lifted in 1933, only to pave the way to another tragedy: WWII. Men were encouraged to join the army and serve the country through one common marketing belief: that sex sells. This popularised pin-up girls as part of the propaganda to have more men enlist for the war.
Alongside boudoir photos are the words “she’s worth fighting for” and “become her hero.” With the glamour that was associated with pin-up girls, boudoir photography rose to public recognition. Women would send provocative photos of themselves to their men overseas and this genre of photography became more popular than ever.
Eventually, boudoir photography has progressed into more than just a tool to encourage men overseas to fight. Rather, it digs its heels into enjoyment and freedom for women. Now, it is more than just about the photos at the end of the shoot, but rather about the experience of the shoot itself: freeing and sensual.
Modern Boudoir Photography
These days, boudoir photography is also called intimate photography. This has become popular as a theme for photo shoots and modelling. Its only rule: spontaneity and confidence.
Boudoir doesn’t have to leave you baring your skin and exposing what you’re not comfortable to expose. It’s about the pursuit of acceptance--anyone can do it. Whatever your size, your shape, or prop that you wish to use, you can give it a try. There is no age limit too, boudoir does not discriminate but rather it empowers. This is what this branch of photography has evolved into.
Sure, it may have been popularised with sexist undertones, but it has grown into its own genre that is both daring and empowering. Boudoir photoshoots nurture a safe space for you to express yourself and feel sensual without fearing punishment nor judgement.
It doesn’t have to be just one woman or man on the picture in some state of undress too. It is an experience that empowers. There have been many types of boudoir introduced over the years. There’s glamour boudoir, couple boudoir, maternity boudoir, bridal boudoir, and so much more!