OIL PAINTING: The Cloud, 1901
The Cloud with its sophisticated draughtsmanship and Symbolist blend of fact and fantasy is indicative of Hacker's Continental training: a supine nude is borne aloft on a fleecy cumulus illuminated by the opalescent rays of a passing rainbow. The custom of placing the female nude in natural settings, often in a somnolent state, was long- established in French painting, allowing for an undisturbed voyeuristic appreciation of the female form. Precedents for this languid figure reclining in a sexually inviting pose can be found in works such as Cabanel's The Birth of Venus of 1863 (exhibited in London in 1869 and probably known to Hacker via his friend Solomon J. Solomon who had trained with Cabanel), and Henri Gervex's notorious Rolla of 1878. The erotic positioning of the principal nude's legs in The Cloud, with one foot provocatively caressing the other, put critics more in mind of the bedroom or studio couch than the ethereal heights, as the Art Journal noted: "these creatures are not of the buoyant, large-hearted air, but rather of the studio". Hacker's nude compositions tend to be panpsychistic, his figures personifying some natural form or force as in Syrinx (1892), The Sleep of the Gods (1893), and Leaf Drift (1903). It was also characteristic of him to append quotations from poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Thomas Woolner to allow for the projection of human emotion and desire onto the natural world. The Cloud was exhibited accompanied by the following lines from Shelley's poem of the same name: "And I all the while bask in heaven's blue smile | While he is dissolving in rains". By the end of the century sun iconography had become an important means for justifying the representation of the body beautiful and the expression of physical rapture and evolution: the motif also appears in Tuke's The Coming of Day, another Academy exhibit of 1901, In The Cloud natural forces determine physical and mental responses, the sun eliciting sexuality and lassitude, the rain introspection and dejection. By gendering these elements feminine and masculine, Hacker casts the former as a femme fatale with the latter as her victim.