Hypnotized by the Stares. Jenny Saville at Museo Novecento, Florence

Jenny Saville’s exhibition at Museo Novecento brings new paintings and drawings by the British artist into dialogue with the Renaissance city of Florence, sparking new conversations between past and present.

Istituto Marangoni Firenze student in Arts Curating Marines Salcedo Gutierrez tells her experience to the readers of I’M Firenze Digest, sharing her feeling of being hypnotized by the vibrant and colourful figures depicted by Saville. 


By Marines Salcedo Gutierrez. Image cover: Jenny Saville, Chasah, 2020. Oil on linen, 200 x 160 x 3 cm. © Jenny Saville. Tutti i diritti riservati, DACS 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates. Private collection. Courtesy: Gagosian

As I walked into the first room of Jenny Saville’s exhibition, my breath was taken away by the contrast between the tall arches of Museo Novecento and the artist’s dynamic and immense portraits that filled the gallery.
When the spectators approach the first artworks, they can see thick abstract brushstrokes against her figurative portraits.
Up close, the paintings reveal a constellation of accurate details.
As I came across the first portraits, I had to look a second and third time just to be sure that they weren’t photographs.
This exercise in looking closer gave me an opportunity to observe all the colors, brushstrokes, and details that came together to create this dynamic result.
She has a unique ability to add movement to her subjects, to make still images come to life. Every piece evokes a different story.
Even when there is no background behind her images, there is a sense of space. A place where riots of colors and emotions bring out her delicate human approach.
Her portraits are rich in both emotional and physical ways, as she adds different layers of acrylic, oil, and pastels to create a complex texture, soft and solid at the same time.
Within this painterly texture, Jenny Saville often reveals the background and the process behind her work.
Shown in the Renaissance city, this technique reminds us of the sketches and anatomy studies by great masters like Michelangelo and da Vinci.
All while balancing human movements with her abstract dynamism of materials and colours in a conscious combination of classical and new.

Jenny Saville, Installation view at Museo Novecento, Florence. © Jenny Saville. Tutti i diritti riservati, DACS 2021. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy: Gagosian

After the energy and contrasts of the large-scale paintings on the first floor, the audience is then faced with her studies in the next section, all done with pencil, with few and scarce splashes of colour. Here, her aesthetics around movement and the human body is more present than ever.

Jenny Saville, Rosetta II, 2005 – 2006. Oil on paper, mounted on panel, 252 x 187,5 cm. © Jenny Saville. Tutti i diritti riservati, DACS 2021. Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Just like Michelangelo turned sketches into sculptures, her approach to drawing seems to evoke cinematic animation, transforming simple sketches into images almost ready to move before our eyes. Finally, a room filled by both finished works and their studies brings the exhibition to a striking conclusion.
Surrounded by her portraits, I was hypnotized by the penetrating stares of the different bodies depicted by Saville, mesmerized by the movements of their colourful silhouettes.

Jenny Saville, Study for Pentimenti III (sinopia), 2011. Charcoal and pastel on paper, 200 x 152 cm. © Jenny Saville. Tutti i diritti riservati, DACS 2021. Photo: Mike Bruce. Private collection. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Marines Salcedo Gutierrez is an undergraduate student in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.

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