Home > A closer look > 10 things to Know About Jenny Saville
10 things to Know About Jenny Saville
A closer look 21 Jul 2015

10 things to Know About Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville
One out of two (symposium), 2016

In spite of what some might still say about the death of painting in contemporary art, this genre undeniably keeps producing internationally renowned artists who use this classic medium to renew figurative art and push the boundaries of representation. British artist Jenny Saville is one big sign that painting is very much alive! A master of the classical technique, her representation of bodies is nonetheless profoundly modern and reflects the big issues of our time.

1. Her fascination with obese people

Jenny Saville
Prop, 1993

While she was studying fine art in Glasgow, Jenny Saville won a 6-month scholarship to study at Cincinnati University. It was her first encounter with the United States and the sight of obese women in shopping malls that sparked her artistic fascination for overweight bodies.

2. Saatchi’s protegé

Jenny Saville
Portrait de Charles Saatchi ©Kieth McMillan

During her show at London’s Cooling Gallery in 1993, the famous art collector Charles Saatchi spotted her work. She was a talented yet unknown young woman artist. Back then, she had not even attended the show because she could not afford the train ticket from Glasgow to London. Saatchi tracked down the paintings that had been purchased in Glasgow and bought them for his own collection. Shortly after he had her producing for his gallery under contract.

3. Young British Artist

Jenny Saville
Sophie Hicks, Sensation

It’s hard to believe but Jenny Saville was one of the artists exhibited –the only “classical” painter- at the famous Young British Artists’ scandalous show entitled “Sensation” at the Royal Academy of Art in 1997, next to Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili and some others.

4. Yet Not Fond of Hirst anymore

L'artiste Damien Hirst © David Bailey
L’artiste Damien Hirst © David Bailey

Though they started in the same movement, Jenny Saville regrets that Damien Hirst’s work has become much more about the mechanisms of the art world than the art itself, and that the soul has gone as she declared in an interview.

5. Plastic Surgery

Jenny Saville
Plan, 1993

When Jenny Saville moved to New York after the success of her first shows in 1994, she spent long hours observing the work of a plastic surgeon based in the city. Taking photographs while standing in on cosmetic surgeries and liposuctions, she observed. On some of her most famous nude paintings, women’s bodies show the lines that surgeons typically draw on patient’s before undergoing liposuctions.

6. Jenny and Pop Rock

Jenny Saville
The Holy Bible album cover

In 1994, Jenny agreed for the Welsh alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers to use her work as the cover of their album for free.

7. Herself as a model

Jenny Saville
Jenny Saville, Reverse, 2003

Jenny Seville uses her own body for many of her paintings. As a start, it’s a rather reliable source since she is there all the time. But she also likes the idea of using herself because it takes her into the work. And not just being the person looking.

8. Her Tricks

Jenny Saville
Jenny Saville in her studio

Since she paints on large format, Jenny Saville often resorts to scaffoldings to reach every part of her canvases. There are also 7 mirrors in her London studio placed at different corners to give her the necessary distance and perspective of her work.

9. Palermo, where her heart belongs


While she was heading back to London in 2003, she stopped for a day to visit Palermo. She fell in love with this city where layers of civilizations have piled up on one another. She now spends part of the year there and considers it her artistic retreat away from the London tumultuous life. It is also a way to be closer to the Italian masters.

10. Saville and Schiele side by side

egon schiele Jenny Saville

Often affiliated with Lucien Freud of Francis Bacon, Jenny Saville’s work will be confronted with another modern master known for his tortured human representations: the Austrian Egon Schiele. The Kunsthaus Zürich museum puts up an exhibition to create a dialogue between the works of both artists. A truly awaited event!

About Artsper

About Artsper

Founded in 2013, Artsper is an online marketplace for contemporary art. Partnering with 1,800 professional art galleries around the world, it makes discovering and acquiring art accessible to all.

Learn more