The naked Dutch: 10 classic images

The Dutch have always had a reputation for sexual frankness and nudity. Here are 10 classic examples from art and (popular) culture. No, we don’t have photos for all of them and yes, they are nearly all female.

1 Naked bike ride

Photo: Berry Stokvis /HH

Photo: Berry Stokvis/HH

Reclaiming the streets by cycling naked started in Spain where, indeed, cyclists are fair game. In the Netherlands things are much better for cyclists but in order to keep it that way, or possibly because feeling the wind through all their hair appealed to them, the Dutch have latched on to the naked cycling movement. Some 150 people participated in the last edition. You can find out here when the 2016 naked bike ride kicks off.

2 That PSP poster

‘PSP Ontwapenend’(PSP Disarming) it said on the (in)famous Pacifistisch Socialistische Partij (now GroenLinks) election poster of 1970. On it was the naked body of actress Saskia Holleman communing with nature, or at least a cow. Holleman, who had made the photos for a magazine, hadn’t counted on being on a poster on every wall in the Netherlands and was only asked for her permission when stacks of the things had already been printed. And then the PSP were miffed when they had to pay her a measly 1,250 guilders! Holleman went on to become a lawyer.

3 Rembrandt

Rembrandt's Seated Female Nude: The Art Institute of Chicago

Rembrandt’s Seated Female Nude: The Art Institute of Chicago

A much earlier shock to the system of Dutch society was Rembrandt’s depiction of the female nude, now celebrated in an exhibition at the Rembrandthuis. Far from idealised, they caused a bit of a stir. As 17th century poet Andries Pels wrote: ‘When he painted a nude woman, as sometimes occurred, No Greek Venus did he choose, oh no, upon my word. His model was a laundress from a hut or a turf treader; his error he explained away as following Dame Nature, and all else as idle decoration. Drooping breasts, Misshapen hands, marks left on flesh all pinched and pressed by laced-up corsets, garter bands that legs constrain. It all must be depicted or risk nature’s high disdain.’

4 Hoepla

Photo: A Vente (Beeld en Geluidwiki - Gallery: Hoepla

Photo: A Vente (Beeld en Geluidwiki – Gallery: Hoepla

Nudity made its debut on Dutch television in 1967 when the VPRO broadcast a series called Hoepla, which focused on groovy alternative items like interviews with pop stars and other far-out stuff. Episode 2 featured 21 year-old artist Phil Bloom reading Christian newspaper Trouw completely naked. That certainly did create a lot of hoopla: questions were even asked in parliament. VPRO members left in droves and the series was discontinued.

5 Naked protest
Naked bodies, or partly naked bodies, can also be a form of protest; think of action group Femen. In the Netherlands, seventies feminist group Dolle Mina (Mina was Wilhelmina Drucker, a 19th century politician and feminist. Her nickname was Iron Mina) famously bared their midriffs to reveal the slogan Baas in eigen Buik, or Boss in our own Belly, defending women’s right to decide to have an abortion.

6 Emmanuelle

Silvia Kristel in 1973. Photo: National Archive via Wikimedia Commons

Silvia Kristel in 1973. Photo: National Archive via Wikimedia Commons

Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel (1952-2012) shot to fame when she took the lead role in soft porn flic Emmanuelle. Controversial – it features masturbation and a cigarette-smoking vagina – and hugely popular, the film became a classic. Kristel went on to make many other films and later became a successful painter (of nudes, among other things).

7 Sjaantje

Isaac Israëls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Isaac Israëls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It was declared the most beautiful nude painting ever by visitors to the Rijksmuseum in 2009: Reclining Nude, or Sjaantje van Ingen reading a book in the buff, by Isaac Israels (1865-1934). The painting shows the type of girl the Dutch would characterise as ‘Hollands glorie’, i.e. blonde, buxom and beautiful. Sjaantje was possibly Israels’ mistress. Israels, and his friend and contemporary George Breitner, were called the ‘Amsterdam impressionists’, always trying to capture the moment, much like a photographer would. Painting nudes was back in fashion by that time but was still seen as slightly pervy.

8 Rutger and Monique

A still from Paul Verhoeven's Turkse Fruit

A still from Paul Verhoeven’s Turkse Fruit

Turks Fruit, or Turkish Delight is a book by famously carnal Jan Wolkers. It is the story of Olga (Monique van de Ven) and Eric (Rutger Hauer) whose love story ends tragically with Olga’s death due to a brain tumour. Paul Verhoeven’s equally carnal film of the book (1973) features a lot of jolly sex between Eric and Olga. One of the many iconic moments in the film – it had so many it was included in the Canon of Dutch Cinema – features a naked Monique taking a flying leap onto a prostrate Rutger. The film was well-received and became the most successful Dutch film ever.

9 Patricia
Time will wither even the most youthful and nubile but some are able to hold off old age better than others, or, failing that, have access to some excellent photoshop. In 2009 Playboy featured singer Patricia Paay, then 60 years old, its oldest Bunny to date. Here she is, baring all (about the photo shoots).

10 Bosch

Part of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, which is not in Den Bosch this year

Part of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, which is not in Den Bosch this year

It’s the year of Jeroen Bosch in case you hadn’t noticed, and that is why from now on we plan to include him in each and every list, no matter what the subject. Not that it’s very difficult in this case because his most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights (around 1500), in the stroppy Prado museum and not in Den Bosch, is teeming with naked bodies. The middle bit of the triptych is dedicated to all sorts of playful naked activity. You can have a closer look here. Recently, Bosch’s innocuous little nude figures fell foul of the Facebook censors who also banned lots of other nudity in art.

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