Reproduced with the kind permission of the artist
There are many things that attract and interest me about this painting, which I think is a masterpiece.
In the first place, it is women's nudity seen by a woman, and does not have that Peeping Tom feeling of so much conventional nude art, in which the models often seem to be irritated, resentful, uncomfortable. By contrast, I don't think there is much in men's art to match e.g. Zinaida Serebriakova's portraits of her daughters, clearly proud of them physically, in their entirety, and also full of love for them as her children and as extensions of that very confident, sexy and determined self that was apparent in her early dressing-table self-portrait. (3).
With Hernández's painting here, too, the figures are unembarrassed yet not showing off to a male eye. Not knowing at first the circumstances, I had the impression of flatmates in a hot climate, passing through the most enervating part of the day.
As Catherine Beaumont has observed to me, the girl at centre is not staring back at us directly, and this allows the eye to rove around the picture and explore the objects (the artist encouraged sitters to bring artefacts of personal significance with them). I love the innocent absorption on the face of the melodica player and she introduces another dimension - sound - which teases us to imagine what she may be playing and what the timbre might be like (and the puzzle of the grey fingers - a potter, perhaps?) I'm also drawn to the creature - a piranha? - with savage teeth; the fly-whisk; the rather young-child's toy at bottom right; the items on the wall; the studio light.
Then there are the different attitudes, again informal and demonstrating the unconsciously beautiful suppleness of the female body (I'm reminded of a favourite D H Lawrence word, "flexuous"). A series of meetings and conversations paved the way for the palpable atmosphere of relaxation and trust. There is clearly a sense of familiarity and engagement with their emotionally charged objects, with each other and the artist herself. In this nurturing one sees a parallel with Rubens' nude portrait of his young wife in a fur coat - her slight smile and shining eye said, as my wife noted, that she trusted him. (4)
There is humour in the extravagant, abandoned inversion of the girl on the left and its juxtaposition to the tensed concentration of the middle girl, while the one on the right is bored or patient, half-dreaming and with (if I see right) rather modern tattooed eyebrows. All are natural in their own way, but in a way not often seen in art, and merit the term Graces.
And the energizing colours! I love that milky blue, the sort of hue chosen to make you feel less oppressed by heat, yet contrasting with the sharp reds on the shawl and some of the other items.
The girls are self-possessedly adult and yet, because of the socks and some of the items they have chosen to accompany them, also still very young, a picture of transition, a group that will soon separate: I think of Larkin's trainful of people arriving at the final destination - "A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower / Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain." (4)
(1) Her site: http://alejandrahernandez.com/
(5) "The Whitsun Weddings" - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/48411