“Human perception of the body is so acute and knowledgeable that the smallest hint of a body can trigger recognition” – Jenny Saville

A well-known modern British artist who is recognised for her large-scale, explicit paintings of nude women that accentuates the raw nuances of identities. Her sensational work, which draws on decades of classic nudes, brings figure art into the twenty-first century, a period when figures are pulled to extremes and scrutinised like never before. Her paintings have managed to sell for more than 10 million dollars at auction, making her one of the most successful female artists of all time. Yes, indeed, the most expensive living female artist: Jenny Saville.

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Jenny Saville _©www.wikiart.org


Jenny Saville was born in Cambridge and was the youngest of four children, born to artistic parents who motivated her to chase her dream of being an artist. Consequently, provided her with a broom closet as her first studio while she was growing up in a squeaky family house in Cambridge. Her Uncle, an art expert, had one of the biggest influences on her childhood, inspiring her to ponder, research, and sketch in new and unusual ways. He took her to Venice when she was mature enough to see outstanding figurative works of famous artists, like Titian and Tintoretto.

She attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1988 to 1992, with a break in 1991 to study at the University of Cincinnati. Her study concentrated on “inadequacies” of flesh, as well as the cultural meanings and taboos that come with them. Saville was able to witness a New York City cosmetic surgeon at practice while on an internship in Connecticut in 1994 that influenced her immensely.

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Her understanding of the body—its tenacity as well as its fragility—was shaped by her research into the rebuilding of human flesh. Saville reawakened modern figurative artwork by trying to challenge the genre’s boundaries and voicing concerns about societal acceptance of the body and its capacity as a representative of the Young British Artists (YBAs), a loose group of artists who rose to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Jenny Saville in her studio __©www.wordpress.com

Saville paints at her studio in Oxford, where she lives, from approximately 8 a.m. till 4 p.m., after which she returns home to enjoy time with her two children; after they’re in bed, she’s again in the studio until 1 a.m. On her travels to her work at night, she enjoys cycling through the city, looking up at students working in brilliantly illuminated laboratories.

Style of Work

Painting and figuration are two of Saville’s main passions. Saville mixes figuration with abstraction to produce vivid and unidealized representations of the physical form, whether it be in her oil paintings of fleshy figures or charcoal drawings of multilayered and overlapping figures. She shows figures, frequently scarred, dimpled, or modified, that relate to our modern context, drawing on antecedents from art history. Her fascination lied in the notion of how bodies may be transformed, as well as the narratives of how they could have changed. But her work is indisputably “woman” – her females mostly don’t resemble the idealized version of females painted by males who have reigned the nude for practically the entire history of art.

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Jenny Saville’s painting material_©Amanda Fordyce for Tatler Hong Kong

Small brushstrokes are used to build up the painting and soften the image in Saville’s style. The artwork has a matte finish, although it does not appear “dried.”  She also employs fascinating, subdued colour choices in her art pieces to create a soothing, non-harsh ambiance with an intensive theme and significance behind it. Saville is also noted for her use of large canvases that let the viewer witness the nuances and layering of oil paints used to achieve her characteristic motion and abstracted realistic look.

Recent Works

Jenny Saville worked with photographer Glen Luchford in 2002 to create massive Polaroids of herself resting on a pane of glass photographed from underneath.

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Jenny Saville – Glen Luchford work__©www.keeleybentleyphoto.wordpress.com

In her most recent work, Saville utilizes graphite, charcoal, and pastel to explore overlapping shapes reminiscent of underdrawings, motion, hybridity, and feminine complexity.

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“Byzantium” on display in the Museo degli Innocenti__©www.nytimes.com
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Saville’s “Byzantium”(2018)__©www.nytimes.com

From September 30, 2021 to February 20, 2022, Jenny Saville will have the central attention of an exhibit created and managed by Sergio Risaliti, Director of the Museo Novecento, in collaboration with many of Florence’s major museums. The exhibition showcases a relationship between Saville and Italian Renaissance artwork and artisans. Interactions include the splendor of her work, which has been a distinguishing aspect of Saville’s figurative language from her younger days, as well as her study on the body, flesh, and nude female beings, maimed or squished by weight and from existence.


Saville has been recognized for establishing a new and difficult approach to painting naked women and revamping figure painting for modern art. Consequently, Jenny Saville with her ladies in her artwork has provided us to make us reflect on current society and our particular responsibilities.

Jenny Saville_©Pal Hansen for the Observer

It’s difficult to look at a Saville canvas and not feel something. Saville has given us, the audience, the chance to participate proactively in the emergence of the artwork. Instead of traditional art for the sake of art, Jenny Saville’s ladies have indeed questioned gender norms of the active and the passive!


  1. Alina Cohen / Artsy (2018). How Jenny Saville Changed the Way We View the Female Form in Painting [online]. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-jenny-saville-changed-way-view-female-form-painting [Accessed date: 18/11/2021].
  2. Artforum (2021). Jenny Saville [online]. Available at: https://www.artforum.com/spotlight/museo-novecento-87063 [Accessed date: 18/11/2021].
  3. Rachel Spence / myFT (2021). Jenny Saville in Florence — a Renaissance reclaimed [online]. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/877e0655-e86f-4587-8ca3-19702bc5064c [Accessed date: 18/11/2021].

Shirley is an architecture student with an interest in sustainable design. She believes that as designers we must not only wisely design for people, but also share our ideas, thoughts, and vision with the community to make the beautiful nuances of architecture accessible to all.

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