Nudism: Longing for Nature at the Beginning of the XXth century
18 januari 2021 
32 min. read

Nudism: Longing for Nature at the Beginning of the XXth century

Naturism and nudism are often interchangeable terms, however, nudists put an accent on the body question, while naturists tend to live in harmony with the environment. When we speak of the history of nudity in Europe, the most contrasting periods were the Victorian era in England with its’ bathing machines on the beaches and the European 1920s with their liberation from the previous social conventions. Nudism and naturism have a rich history of interacting with many ideologies through the few last centuries.

Nude woman as Diana

Fig. 1. Gerhard Riebicke, 1930. Nude woman as Diana, who was a deity of hunt.

nude with bow and arrow

Fig. 2. Gerhard Riebicke, 1925

nude archer

Fig. 3. Gerhard Biericke, 1925

nudism 20th century

Fig. 4. Gerhard Biericke, 1925

reclining nude in the dunes

Fig. 5. Gerhard Biericke, 1925

standing nude with dog

Fig. 6. Gerhard Biericke, 1925

standing nude female with dog holding a bow and arrow

Fig. 7. Gerhard Biericke, 1930

nude female in the dunes

Fig. 8. Gerhard Biericke, 1930

Philosophical Ground

The theoretic basis of naturism appeared during the Enlightenment when, according to Wiki, restrictions against nudity, ironically, grew as well. Both naturism and nudism are connected with our longing for nature and natural life. The opposition of nature and civilization was the central point of the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). His cult of nature was meant to show the artificialness of modern human society and human relations. From the point of view of Rousseau, the natural man was pure, and only the civilization’s tyranny spoiled him and turned him into what he is now. This theory corresponds to religious and mythologic views, according to which the first people dwelled in heaven.

epic nude

Fig. 9. Heinz von Perckhammer, 1935

two female nudes

Fig. 10. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1930

nude females lying on the beach

Fig. 11. Anonymous, c. 1930

Gerhard Riebicke nude

Fig. 12. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1935

two nudes on the rocks

Fig. 13. Anonymous, c. 1930

Between Health and Heaven

The 19th century brought in some new issues such as urbanization and industrialization. People began to worry about their health more than about their moral state. So, naturism, nudism, vegetarianism, and many radical reforms of different aspects of life began to emerge.

2 nude females holding hands on the beach

Fig. 14. Anonymous, 1930

nude in acrobatic pose

Fig. 15. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1930

nudes at the beach in an acrobatic pose

Fig. 16. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1930

male and female nude doing crazy moves

Fig. 17. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1935

male and female nude on the beach

Fig. 18. Anonymous c. 1935

The Pioneer of Nudism in Germany

Heinrich Pudor (1865-1943) was the founder of German nudism. Being adherent to Lebensreform ideas (the social movement in Germany of those times for turning back to nature), Pudor published books on naturism, nudism, and vegetarianism in the 1890s. He also was a director of the Royal Conservatory in Dresden like his father and promoted the idea of performing only German music. Although Pudor had radical nationalistic and anti-Semitic views, he criticized the cult of Hitler, so his writings were banned by Nazi.

Heinrich Pudor

Fig. 19. Heinrich Pudor (

Gerhard Riebicke nudes

Fig. 20. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1935

three acrobatic nudes

Fig. 21. Anonymous, c. 1935

three nudes photo

Fig. 22. Anonymous, c. 1935

four female nudes photo

Fig. 23. Anonymous, c. 1935

four nudes in the field

Fig. 24. Anonymous, c. 1930

Nudism and Fascism

Despite the feeling that the word “naked” is supposed to mean “purified from discrimination and prejudices,” some nudist organizations didn’t allow opulent and disabled people to participate. According to Maurice Parmelee, nudism was a way to get “more beautiful mankind.” This discriminative side of nudism is totally obvious in esthetically perfect images illustrating the article. People in the shots embody almost unnatural health and harmony. Paradoxically, nature lacks human perfectionism and produces lots of diseased or misshaped creatures that are far from the abstract ideal.

nudism picture

Fig. 25. H.B., c. 1925

naturism photo

Fig. 26. Anonymous, C. 1925

naturists in the forest

Fig. 27. Anonymous, 1920

four female naturists

Fig. 28. Anonymous, c. 1930

3 nudes photography

Fig. 29. Anonymous, c. 1930

jumping nude photo

Fig. 30. Anonymous, c. 1930

Modern Nudism

Contemporary nudists, unlike their predecessors, agitate for personal comfort and acceptance of one’s body. They try to neutralize modern obsession with certain parameters of beauty. Each body is individual with its’ own imperfections. As one can notice, nudism is a very heterogeneous movement. On the one hand, it could be a protest of communists against capitalism. On the other hand, it contributed to eugenics and nationalism, being rather an aristocratic movement of physical perfection. The denial of human civilization was rooted deeply in what it tried to elude. So, nudity is not a state of authenticity but an instrument that can serve any ideology, especially when the difference between these ideologies is uncertain.

flying nude picture

Fig. 31. Gerhard Riebicke, 1935

nude art photography

Fig. 32. Anonymous, c. 1930

nude on a rock

Fig. 33. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1930

nudes with giant ball

Fig. 34. Anonymous, c. 1930

nudes playing with a ball in the forest

Fig. 35. Anonymous, 1930

2 nudes in the fiorest

Fig. 36. Anonymous, c. 1925

nudism swimmers

Fig. 37. Anonymous, 1925

nude in wheel

Fig. 38. Anonymous, c. 1930

Kurt Reichert nudes

Fig. 39. Kurt Reichert, c. 1935

nude girl in running start pose photography

Fig. 40. Gerhard Riebicke, c. 1925

Gerhard Riebicke two nudes

Fig. 41. Cerhard Riebicke, c.1925

nude in the sand

Fig. 42. Anonymous, c. 1935

nude at sea picture

Fig. 43. Anonymous, c. 1935

photography nudes

Fig. 44. van Jan, c. 1920

Max Franz Nielsen nude

Fig. 45. Max Franz Nielsen, c. 1925

Click HERE to check out an article on the fashion photographer Helmut Newton and his flirtatious nudes….!!

Photographs: “1000 Nudes: Uwe Scheid collection”, 1994


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About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
olivier manoury

olivier manoury

on 18 Jan 2021

Very interesting Daria. This is definitely pertinent in Shunga Gallery! European societies were terrified by sex in the early 20th century and pornography was strictly forbidden. These nudity pictures which appeared in some magazines after being retouched (female sex organs and pubic hair totally erased) were not only read by Naturists, they were a way to legally access nudity material. As a child in the 60's I remember looking in the newspaper shops at an British magazine called Health and Efficiency (H&E) which started in 1900 as a herbal diet magazine and little by little gained audience by showing Naturist material, and ended by being mostlyly a nudity picture magazine bought by men (straights and gays) as a sex stimulator. It stil exist, and, pornography being allowed and omnipresent nowadays it is only a naturist magazine. It is interesting how "respectable" Christians compensated for the lack of Shunga through the ages. The Renaissance and baroque churches were showing nudity in the paintings an sculptures of Biblical scenes, I have seen an "ethnographic" book of early 20th century titled Women of the World showing a great quantity of naked ladies from Africa and a few tightly dressed Europeans ladies in folk or fashion clothes! Olivier (musician and artist)



on 19 Jan 2021

Thanks for the interest in this article, Olivier! Yes, the body in human culture always was both desirable and deniable. However, nudists' philosophy was focused not on eroticism, but on the ancient harmony of healthy flesh. The body wasn't a sex object for them of course. So, using a nudists' magazine as a stimulus for masturbation is by all means profaning.



on 20 Jan 2021

sure Daria, this is true on a nudist point of view, but no one controls the use or "misuse" of imagery or litterature. In his memories Luis Buñuel tells that as a boy he used to masturbate in front of pictures of the Holy Virgin, these images being the only representations of a woman he had access to. This is of course profaning on a christian point os view. Then business being as it is nudist publications have been influenced by its success among non nudists in want of nudity pictures. I am a myself and d draftsman. I studied drawing when I was around 14 years old at evening class in the house of Victor Hugo (himself a talented draftsman) in Paris which had been changed into a school and museum. I remember that among all the courses the nude model sessions was my favorites, and at this age and in this period where nudity was banned (The 60's) I cannot deny the great erotic emotions and pleasure provoked by the sight of the naked female models. If shunga is art art is often shunga!



on 20 Jan 2021

Anyway, it was Buñuel, which changes a lot. I mean there is a difference between an "ordinary" man masturbating in front of something more or less erotic and (pre)surrealists, who focused on eroticism as a great artistic power. Buñuel's memories of his pubescent experience are of great importance because they shaped his artistic vision just as Dali's childhood impression of a little fish in his hands as a substitute of the glans that weirdly transformed in his paintings into the image of a grasshopper.



on 29 Jan 2021

Naturism and nudity are an interesting subject for discussion. It's interesting to see that the same thing Olivier mentions in his comment also happened (and still takes place) in China. When I went to live there in the early 80s, nudity was unheard of! Slowly, publications started to it the bookshelves of libraries: all "art" books. Everything and anything slightly more risque was simply not seen, banned or removed, including old literary classics illustrated with woodblock prints depicting, even if discretely, sexual encounters. Chinese erotica in any form was burried, or burned. I lived there (first as a journalist/translator, and later as a diplomat) until 2016. Since I was no longer a diplomat by the time I left, when I packed and moved away, my boxes were, as is usual practice, opened by the customs inspectors. All my Shunga books, chinese erotica, etc., We're confiscated as pornography. Mind you that none if it had been bought it published in China! They could not care less. It's not even negotiable! They stole them. And destroyed them? I doubt! They must be sitting on some communist party member's shelf! Chinese love erotica and porn as much as anyone else. Go to certain places in China, to do business, and they (and by they I mean the party bosses you are dealing with) will bring you girls as a gift for an honored guest (never happened to me personally, but I had close friends that found themselves in those situations,) Underground sex abounds in China. For artists nude modeling books too, but there's also quite a bit of hardcore sex art being created there. It's a truism, but "sex sells" and that'll never change!



on 29 Jan 2021

These double standards are so wide-spread that they're not even irritating, just funny. For instance, the orthodoxal church (I mean Russian) sells wine and cigarettes, that's their income. Police almost everywhere cover drug dealers, People who ban sex are actually those who sell it. It's a pity that they confiscated your stuff.



on 29 Jan 2021

ABSOLUTELY right! Follow the money! Back home we have a saying, "Public virtues, private vices!" Very true. As for the books they confiscated, I managed to replace most of them, but not all. Infuriates me. Legalized robery always makes me mad, no matter what it is or where it takes place.

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