Hermès, Birdcages, and Butterflies: The Lush, Hyperrealistic Nudes of Anna Halldin Maule

In her first solo exhibition in San Francisco, at Scott Richards Gallery, Anna Halldin Maule presents eight lush new oil paintings on canvas. Her portraits are hyperrealistic, depicting young, beautiful women, nude except for spare adornments like jewelry, makeup, and objects of luxury. Employing thin glazes of oil paint in numerous layers, she gives the images a rich, deep, glow and a highly refined surface. Halldin Maule works closely with her husband, the photographer Tom Maule, to develop imagery that serves as the basis of her work.

In Persona (2013), the artist depicts the bust of a nude woman, her skin soft, pale, and fine. Her blonde hair has been woven into a thick braid that glistens and is wrapped carefully around her throat like a necklace. Her face has been covered with an ornate Hermès kerchief. The image echoes René Magritte’s famous 1928 trompe l’oeil painting The Lovers (Les Amants). The fabric is collected at the back of the model’s head, continuing the carefully rendered folds of her braid into the silk cloth. And its elaborate patterning traces the contours of her head, imaginatively alluding to her features without revealing them.

The Gilded Cage (2014) presents an even more surreal image: a young woman in a nearly full-length, life-sized frontal portrait stands before the viewer. She is nude except for a pair of inconspicuous black underwear. She holds a large gold birdcage; dozens of butterflies have flown out of its open door. Most of them have assembled at her head, obscuring her face. The painting likewise alludes to Magritte, who often painted birdcages (as in The Healer, 1937) and, in one series, obscured the face of a man in a suit with various objects (as in his iconic 1946 painting, The Son of Man). Halldin Maule’s spectacularly detailed rendering of the metal, and of the reflective gold wings of the butterflies, suggests a fantastical consumption by opulent lifestyle goods.

In some paintings, such as Her Secret Weapon (2013) and Flora (2014), Halldin Maule’s painting recalls the work of Marilyn Minter. Both artists pay keen attention to succulent forms, reflected light, and supple skin, and both use branded signifiers of class and taste. Although her work admires the human body and beautiful goods, Halldin Maule is clear in her ambivalence towards fashion, advising, “Love fashion, but don’t let it consume you”—a warning that’s harder to heed when it is presented as a beautiful painting.

PERSONA paintings by Anna Halldin Maule” is on view at Scott Richards Gallery, San Francisco, Aug. 7th–30th, 2014.

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