The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century drawings from the Paris Academy, an exhibition at The Wallace Collection

The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century drawings from the Paris Academy, The Wallace Collection, until 19th January 2014

François Boucher, Study of a man lying down, an elbow leaning on the ground, 1739. © ENSBA, Paris.

François Boucher, Study of a man lying down, an elbow leaning on the ground, 1739. © ENSBA, Paris.

These remarkable drawings come from the Ėcole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which is a descendant of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which was originally founded in 1648.  The Academy’s role was to teach the more gifted artists what skills were needed to succeed in history painting which in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century was considered the most important genre for a painter.  Indeed the Academy provided the best training in Europe.

François de Troy, Bacchus, standing face on, late 17th century. © ENSBA, Paris.

François de Troy, Bacchus, standing face on, late 17th century. © ENSBA, Paris.

At this time would-be painters or sculptors were apprenticed to a Master to learn in their studio.  Those who showed promise were allowed to attend the life class at the Academy.  Only male models were used as the male figure was regarded as the basis of sculpture and painting.  There were no female models allowed at the Academy, which meant that artists had to seek out their female subjects in less salubrious settings.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Two fighters, (undated). © ENSBA, Paris.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Two fighters, (undated). © ENSBA, Paris.

Although the Academy’s teaching regime was strict there is no doubt that it paid off as the thirty-seven drawings on show amply prove.  The figures whether single or in pairs are shown in a variety of poses, their facial expressions suited to the physical emotions they are expressing.

Antoine-Jean Gros, Man standing, striking a bull, 1790. © ENSBA, Paris.

Antoine-Jean Gros, Man standing, striking a bull, 1790. © ENSBA, Paris.

While some of the artists included in this show, such as Rigaud, Boucher, Nattier and Jean-Baptiste Isabey, are represented in the Wallace Collection, the Hertfords hardly collected any historical or academic works. So the opportunity to see this group of drawings fills an important gap in our understanding of the story of 18th century French painting.

Nicolas de Plattemontagne, Sleeping man, legs bent, 1687. © ENSBA, Paris.

Nicolas de Plattemontagne, Sleeping man, legs bent, 1687. © ENSBA, Paris.

As well as the exhibition there is a trail guide to pictures and objects in the Wallace’s collections that relate to the exhibition.

Jean-Baptiste Lagrenée, Seated man, leaning on his right arm, 1789. © ENSBA, Paris.

Jean-Baptiste Lagrenée, Seated man, leaning on his right arm, 1789. © ENSBA, Paris.

www.wallacecollection.org

François-Guillaume Ménageot, Hercules at rest, left profile, (undated). © ENSBA, Paris.

François-Guillaume Ménageot, Hercules at rest, left profile, (undated). © ENSBA, Paris.

 

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