From Titian’s exquisite Venus of Urbino to the warm sensuality of John Singer Sargent’s The Bathers, nudes have inspired some of the greatest works of art.
Now the entire country will get a chance to grapple with the human form, as BBC Four prepares to make television history with the first live life-drawing class.
The two-hour special, described as an art lesson for the nation, could pave the way for a new slate of interactive cultural programming.
The programme will also reflect masterpieces such as Modigliani’s 1917 Reclining NudeALAMYViewers will be encouraged to draw along with the class at home, sketching an array of naked models under the guidance of the award-winning professional artists Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie.
The best submissions will be displayed on screen towards the end of the show, so budding Botticellis can show off their works to the world.
Cassian Harrison, the channel editor of BBC Four, promised that Life Drawing Live!, to be broadcast at a time and date yet to be announced, would be a meditative experience unlike anything else on television.
His channel has popularised “slow TV” — a consciously languid genre intended to mesmerise rather than excite — and he believes the same approach could transform live event programming.
“We all feel that the pace of life is rather faster than it might be. Television itself, for a long time, has wanted an accelerated pace, to become noisier, louder and faster,” he said.
“One of the things I’ve discovered on BBC Four is that audiences really like to take it down a gear, to take the time to contemplate and drink something in.”
Josie D’Arby will host the programmeGARETH CATTERMOLE/GETTY IMAGESLife Drawing Live! will be hosted by Josie D’Arby, a former children’s television presenter and keen painter. Todd and Goudie will offer advice to a room of amateur artists as they draw several different life models, who will move between poses throughout the 120-minute class.
The programme will include warm-up routines and time to practise before the two experts help the class — and viewers at home — to embark on their own masterpieces.
Mr Harrison, who has led BBC Four since 2013, said that the nudity would be handled tastefully, with models of all sizes and both sexes.
“It’s a celebration of a proud and long artistic tradition,” he told The Times. “Life drawing is one of the core elements of all art and drawing, and the human body is a wonderful and extraordinary thing.”
If the special proves popular, the format could be adopted for other arts and crafts, from flower arranging to pottery. Mr Harrison said he wanted to make BBC Four, the national broadcaster’s most highbrow channel, even more relevant to audiences.
“The ability for us not just to tell people about art and culture but to involve them in it, to allow them to participate and fulfil their own ambition and potential seemed like a really nice thing to do,” he said.
Broadcasters are counting on “live event” television to stem the drift of viewers to on-demand platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Ratings for scheduled television are in long-term decline, but big appointment-to-view productions, from sporting fixtures and Eurovision to this year’s Gavin & Stacey Christmas special, continue to attract large audiences as viewers seek out shared communal experiences.
“That’s still an incredibly valuable part of what television does. I want BBC Four to do that as much as the bigger channels do,” Mr Harrison said.
D’Arby reassured novices that they could be as experimental or as ambitious as they liked. “The idea that the nation might join together in one huge shared drawing class and all learn from each other in a non-competitive way is very exciting,” she said.
Life Drawing Live! has been commissioned with BBC Arts to coincide with the broadcast of Mary Beard’s two-part documentary series Shock of the Nude on BBC Two early next year.
Figure-drawing classes have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, even becoming a popular choice for stag and hen parties seeking an alternative to more raucous activities.