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Unidentified British artist, Drawings of a standing male nude holding a bar above his head

Drawings of a standing male nude holding a bar above his head, Probably 1850s

Unidentified British artist

RA Collection: Art

These drawings were bought by the Royal Academy in 1864 shortly after the death of the artist, William Mulready, as the Council felt 'assured that they could not place before the Students of the Life School finer examples to guide them in their study'. The Victorian art critic F. G. Stephens suggested that this set of drawings were among the best of Mulready's 'highly characteristic' studies.

William Mulready joined the Royal Academy Schools in 1800 and developed a devotion to the life class, comparable to that of his contemporary William Etty. He retained an interest in life drawing throughout his career and during the 1840s developed a new technique employing red and black chalks to produce subtle and highly detailed studies. F. G. Stephens described this technique at length: 'he [Mulready] began with great delicacy and care to draw the outline in charcoal...secondly, the outline was finished with red chalk; and thirdly, by means of a fine point, an even tint of the same material was carefully spread over the whole of the space included by the outline: when rubbed gently with the finger, a rag or piece of paper, this produces a peculiar pink tint which distinguishes the drawings; the broader shadows were next worked in with red chalk ...; the lights on the figures were produced with bread; finally, black Italian chalk was employed over the darker parts, and to give the grayish tints which afforded the appearance of painting to these studies, and rendered them so solid in modelling, so acceptable to artistic eyes'. Judging from this group of drawings, and others in the V&A collection, Mulready occasionally deviated from the method described above. For instance, there is no evidence of charcoal under the outline of these studies and in some cases, the artist has substituted pencil for black chalk or used both together.

Mulready not only attended the Royal Academy life class but was also one of the most popular Visitors (teachers) there. He wrote: 'My own practice as a Visitor in the Academy is, after setting the model in a position for the student, to see they are all placed, and I then sit down amongst them and draw, as they do, from the model, taking a position in which I can see what is going on...I think that I do good drawing by myself, though I am not bound to draw. I think it is beneficial to the students for the visitor not only to say, 'Go in such a direction,' but to go in that direction himself.'. The detailed life drawings Mulready produced at this time became known as the 'Academy Studies', and were so highly acclaimed that they were exhibited as a group at Gore House in 1853. Queen Victoria visited the exhibition and was so impressed with Mulready's studies that she asked to buy one of them. John Ruskin, conversely, dismissed Mulready's nude studies as 'degraded', 'bestial', 'vulgar' and 'abominable'.

Mulready's enthusiasm for life drawing continued unabated until his death in 1864. An entry in Richard Redgrave's diary records: ' I believe Mulready is seventy-three, and yet there he is, hard at work at the 'Life', like any young student. He is not only attending as Visitor, and drawing at the Royal Academy, but he is one of a party who meet three times a week at Ansdell's for studying from the life'. This group includes studies made both at the RA and at Ansdell's (also known as the 'Kensington Life Academy').

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Object details

Drawings of a standing male nude holding a bar above his head
Probably 1850s
Object type
Pencil on wove paper

560 mm x 763 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Christie's (London) in May 16th 1864
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