Francesca Woodman’s Untitled: elegance and eroticism


Afterlife …

Francesca Woodman is one of 20th-century art’s great martyrs. Before killing herself aged 22, she created a haunted body of work, only discovered after her death.

Ghost in the machine …

Her black-and-white photos of herself, usually naked, have the dark charms of a gothic romance. At times, they recall Victorian spirit photography, as if her ghost is visibly departing her blurred body. Elsewhere, she summons classical or religious imagery.

Snake charmer …

The eel portraits were made while studying in Italy in 1977 and 1978. The coiled serpentine form is echoed by her fuzzy nude outline. Is the phallic eel her desire made manifest? Is she becoming a snake, the biblical seducer? Another work from this time echoes Christian imagery; she hangs from a doorframe as though crucified.

Her dark materials …

There is a bittersweet, teenage quality to Woodman’s work and she was far from alone in using photography to play with identity. But her mix of elegance, eroticism and personal tragedy is uniquely gripping.

Francesca Woodman’s Untitled, 1978



Francesca Woodman’s Untitled, 1978. Photograph: © Courtesy of George and Betty Woodman

Part of Artist Rooms: Self Evidence, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, to 20 October



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