The Passion of Collecting Academic Nudes

Join me as we explore my collection of Academic Nudes from the 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Centuries and serendipitous finds in the Museum, Art Auction, and Gallery world......examples from the Golden Age of the European Academie

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Head of Hercules: Drawing from the Antique

I thought we would take another look at a drawing I bought several months ago. It is tacked up on the wall to the right of my computer station and I see it every time I come in to do my computer work. It is the "Hercule" drawing which is a beautiful example of "drawing from the antique." It really is a beautiful work of student art. It is most probably an advanced student copy of a lithograph produced for a 19th century French drawing course. Many of the drawing courses offered to striving students featured a section called "Modeles d'apres la bosse" or Models after Casts. This process of copying from a lithographic print taught the student how to systematically draw after casts by offering a large collection of plates depicting casts of both partial and complete nude male and female bodies. The majority of the casts are taken from ancient sculptures. There are several advantages to using casts as drawing models. Their static immobility permits extended artistic study of a single view or single pose. Since they were usually white they provided easier reading by the student of light and shadow on their surfaces. Antiquity has long set the standards for gleaning the ideal human form from all the idiosyncrasies of various body types, thus the "Classical Style" which is defined by clarity, continuity of outline, geometric simplification of shapes, and rhythmic ordering of forms. The use of casts gradually diminished over time and pretty much fell out of favor by the 1920's. By the 1950's figure drawing had pretty much fell into nothing more than a free hand event, without direction or criticism, system or method. The party of correctly training students was over. When I look at this fine drawing, all that detail and attention to how light plays over that figure, how the artist who created it has translated light and dark into something believable and real, I have to feel sorry for students now who are not being taught those classical methods. Fortunately there are private ateliers around the country and in Europe that have revived classical techniques and who today produce some fine classically trained artists.

Caption: Head of Hercules
Artist: Unknown
Medium: Conte on paper
Dated: Undated, circa mid-19th Century


Here are just a few images of the classical hero himself:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Contrapposito Stance and Why Your Mother Told You Never To Slouch..

I am constantly editing these posts for mistakes, errors, and above all content. If I couldn't put ten words together to create a cogent thought I would be in big trouble indeed. In that last post I threw out a big Italian word which is really important when talking about nude figures and how they are posed in the compositions and that word is "contrapposito." I know from looking at the blog's followers list that the great many of you are trained artists and know what that word entails and implies but there are one or two newbies out there who stumble (I love that just rolls off the tongue as you hit the ground) upon this blog and are scratching their heads wondering what that big Italian word means. Well, it simply relates to the way a figure is standing in the picture or sculptural plane. Specifically, contrapposito is when the figure is standing with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg is relaxed. That pose dates back to the sculptures of ancient Greece. It was their attempt to make their sculptures more "human" and less cardboard cutouts. In this classic pose, the figure's hips and shoulders rest at opposite angles, giving a slight s-curve to the entire torso. I would like to thank for the above illustration. The red lines on Michaelangelo's David show where his muscles are tensed and the blue lines show where his muscles are relaxed. David really is a perfect example of contrapposito in Renaissance sculpture. In this pose the figure is at rest, very natural, very "human" in its stance. Translated the word simply means "counterpoise."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Academic Drawing From The Antique, Standing Male Nude

19th Century Drawing Studios for drawing from the Antique....


Caption: Drawing of a male nude from the Antique Cast
Artist: Unknown
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dated: circa. mid-to-late 19th Century

I bought this academic "drawing from the antique" last night from a seller in Paris. I have been looking for a nice example of 19th century student drawing from the plaster cast for quite some time. This was inexpensive and I grabbed it as it appears to be a superb example. From the illustration it appears to be a quality drawing, something which does not come up for sale every day and something there is usually little competition to obtain. Before an aspiring artist was graduated into the studio with a live model, he or she had to master the basics of observation and prove themselves ready to make that all important adjustment to a live model. Beginning students in the Academie would first master drawing from engravings or lithographs, graduate to lengthy drawing sessions from plaster casts, and then head into the life drawing studio. I have seen a lot of these cast drawings but none really grabbed my interest like this one did. I may be disappointed when it arrives but my educated guess tells me it appears to be by a technically proficient hand, most probably a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts or Academie Julian in Paris during the latter part of the 19th Century. The object of these exercises was to locate the figure on the page with technical precision, and then to describe what was going on out there at the cast in detail. That required a cohesive synthesis of line and tonality expressing volume, capturing the effect of light and shadow, reflected light, and of course, movement within the entire composition. I will photograph it when it arrives and post new illustrations of the drawing.

Valentine Bender (1884-1947) Young Saint John the Baptist (Bronze Nude Boy)

Yesterday I sat for hours trying to find any kind of information on the artist responsible for this beautiful bronze. It is signed "V. Bender" without any foundry marks. I finally stumbled (my favorite pastime...I have two once dislocated fingers and a once dislocated shoulder to prove it, including detailed MRI's, x-rays, and several witnesses if you don't believe me) upon a Belgian Sculptor by the name of Valentine Bender (1884-1947). I took one look at his other works and knew I had my man. The unfortunate part of my search is that I managed to come up with, naught in the way of biographic information on the man. I knew from whence the bronze had antiques dealer in Brussels, and I had that signature on the bronze itself, and apparently nothing else. In my search yesterday I pulled up many images of the Young Saint John, paintings mostly, all semi-nude, all sensual, and all erotically seductive. Young Saint John the Baptist seemed to be a favorite for some reason of some very famous names in art history. Of course, I took out one of my many Art reference volumes and the reason became very obvious, very quickly: the adaptation of Christian icons from Greek Mythology myth in particular...... Ganymede. What a surprise there. I swear, I will have to spend next week reading James L. Saslow's: Ganymede in the Renaissance and bone up ( pun intended) on that little rascal. He keeps popping up all over the place (oh my, another pun intended), and you are wondering how I know this is Saint John? Easy, that reed staff he is holding is a dead give-a-way. It's part of his persona. That cross portends events in his life yet to come. If I am not mistaken, that banner wrapped around the cross should hold the statement: "Behold the lamb of God" inscribed in Latin on it. Isn't it strange, on second thought, less strange, more deliberate, how the artist posed that left arm. Does it remind you of another famous sculpture? Michelangelo's David, perhaps? What goes around certainly comes around eventually in art. I kept looking at that arm expecting to see a sling hanging over his shoulder. There is definitely method in his madness me thinks. I think my favorite view of this bronze is from the side....that flowing, classic "S" curve shape of the boy's torso, the way the hips carry the weight of the upper torso and that contrapposito stance, is really beautiful. Enjoy.


Caption: Young Saint John (Bronze Nude Figure)
Artist: Valentine Bender (Belgian) (1884-1947)
Medium: Cast Bronze
Dated: circa 1910 - 1930


Here are two additional examples of Bender's works I managed to find on the net. The second I saw that female nude bronze I knew I had the correct artist. The stylistic similarities are quite notable: