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

Friday, May 21, 2010

What is Academic Art?

This evening I ran across a short article on the Dahesh Museum website describing "Academic Art" and I thought I would share it with you:

"Academic art refers to the tradition of drawing, painting, and sculpture taught at the academies, or art schools, of Europe. First established in Renaissance Italy, academies flourished in the 19th century and prescribed strict guidelines for the production of works of art. This organized training system ensured that artists possessed a high level of technical ability and familiarity with the lofty themes of the Western tradition. Nearly every city in Europe, and, later, the United States, Australia, and Latin America developed an art academy that set similarily high standards.

The most important academy of the modern period, and the one upon which many others modeled their own systems of promotion, patronage, display and teaching, was the French academy, founded in 1648. During most of the 19th century, this powerful institution oversaw the premier art school in Paris, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and controlled the official exhibitions known as Salons. It established strict hierarchy for valuing subject matter, with history paintings at the pinnacle, and also awarded the most prestigious honor a French art student could receive, the prix de Rome."

Of course the snooty French weren't about to let just any old riff-raff artist who strayed across the French border into their premier academy, especially women.....mon dieu! The Academy Julian became an alternative to the official French academy. Established in 1868 by Rodolphe Julian, the Academy Julian hosted foreigners and, god-forbid, women, who were not allowed into the Academie des Beaux-Arts until 1897. The Academy was popular with Americans and many leading artists spent time there.

The first Academy of Art was founded in Florence, Italy in 1562 by Giorgio Vasari, who named it the Accademia dell'Arte de' Disegno. There students learned the 'arti del disegno' and included lectures on anatomy and geometry. Another Academy, the Accademia di San Luca (named after the patron saint of painters, St. Luke) was founded about a decade later in Rome. The Accademia di San Luca was more concerned with art theory. The Accademia di San Luca later served as the model for the Academie Royal de Pienture et Sculpture founded in France in 1648 and which later became the Academie des Beaux-Arts. The Royal Academie was founded in an effort to distinguish artists "who were gentlemen practicing a liberal art" from meer creftsmen, who were deemed to be engaged in manual labor. The resultant emphasis on the intellectual component of artmaking had a considerable impact on the subjects and styles of academic art.

Auguste-Hyacinthe DeBay (1804-1865) Nude Ephebe

This morning I had the good fortune to obtain a new addition of an early 19th Century drawing to my collection. The drawing is attributed to Auguste-Hyacinthe DeBay (1804-1865). It dates circa 1823 and is a nude ephebe in a standing frontal pose. I think the attribution is accurate based upon stylistic similarities in the execution of the drawing and examples of DeBay's engravings. Take a look at the engravings listed below and compare the stylistic similarities for yourself.

Auguste-Hyacinthe DeBay (1804-1865) is a well know French Master. From 1830 DeBay exhibited at the Paris Salon in both paintings and sculpture. He exhibited in the 1855 Exposition and was awarded a first class medal for his sculpture 'Cain and Abel'. As soon as the drawing arrives I will photograph it and post additional illustrations.

Caption: Nude Ephebe, Standing, Frontal View
Artist: In the manner of Auguste-Hyacinthe DeBay (1804-1865)
Medium: Charcoal on paper
Dated: Circa 1823

Here are a few examples of Auguste-Hyacinthe DeBay's mature work:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hans Thoma Prints are headed for the conservation Laboratory

Pan ....1896

Above is an illustration of the Hans Thoma print from a later edition that I found on the Adonis Gallery website.

Pan..... 1893

Der Verlorene Sohn .......1919

I have two heavily acid stained Hans Thoma prints, one, a lithograph dated 1893, signed in the plate (not sure of the title, will have to do some research on the print), and the other an intaglio print titled "Der Verlorene Sohn", "The Prodigal Son", dated 1919, signed in the plate and in pencil. Thoma's prints are very collectable and I believe well worth the expense to have them restored and brought back to the original condition at the time of printing.

Update on the untitled Lithograph (May 21, 2010). I happened upon this same print on the Adonis Gallery website and the title of the print is (according to the gallery) "Pan". The print they had is dated 1896 and apparently from a later edition. This print is dated in the plate "93". The Restoration Lab called today and I gave the all clear for the restoration. She indicated the lithograph "Pan" is full sized and was meant to be matted to the outside edges. The other print "Der Verloren Sohn" has been cut down from its original dimensions and can be framed closer to the platemark. The original color is apparently "cream" toned paper. Looking forward to getting them back into my collection in like new condition.

Ernest Sigismund Witkamp (1854-1897) Nude Ephebe Posed With Shield And Staff

Ernest Sigismund Witkamp (Dutch-Amsterdam 1854 - October 1897) studied under Nicolaas van de Waay and Jacobus de Looy. He was one of the first pupils of August Allebe, the illustrious director of the Amsterdam Rijksakademie of Visual Arts. He is famous for his genre, portrait, and figure paintings. Landscape, still lifes, and cityscapes were also in his repertoire. From 1894 to 1897 he was conservator of the Museum Fodor in Amsterdam. His work hangs in several Museums in Holland.

This is one of several museum quality figure paintings in my collection. As I started collecting Academic Nudes I started to see a strange absence of artworks depicting female children as models. Good quality females nudes from the 19th Century were unexpectedly few and far between also yet there seemed to be an abundance of adult Male Nudes and surprisingly a good number of nude boys and male youths. During my research in the Fine Arts library I stumbled upon several books that I believe provide an answer. All too often we will judge subject matter in terms of our own contemporary society and forget that the mores and tastes of the past may in fact be the complete opposite of the contemporary.

In the book "The Male Nude - Tradition and Innovation" the author addresses this:

"From the Renaissance onwards, the nude, and the male nude in particular became the most important unit in a visual vocabulary. The Male Nude was used to excite the viewer not to religious contemplation but to 'heroic virtue.' Nude Male figures are seen as a guarantee of moral purity. Today, none of these emotional and intellectual structures exist now, and the Male Nude has been reduced to the level of a purely genre subject."

During my library exploration I also discovered another book which shed some light on this question also. The book is titled: Ganymede in the Renaissance by James M. Saslow. I will quote some of his ideas regarding the male youth as subject matter for many academic studies and depictions.

"Ganymede in classical mythology was a beautiful trojan boy who became the cupbearer to the gods. Abducted by Jupiter he became the wine pourer, beloved of the gods. Ganymede was a widely popular theme in the 16th century in Italy and the origin of the ephebe in classical tradition. In iconographic terms, the abduction and heavenly service of the beautiful mortal youth represented the epitome of four interlinked emotions:

(1) the rapture of the pure human soul, (2) intellect in the presence of divinity, (3) the uplifting power of chaste earthly love, and (4) both the delight and the disapproval associated with sexual passion, particularily in it's homosocial form. Ganymede became the archetype of ideal, youthful male beauty. Ganymede served as both a symbol of the androgynous ideal of male beauty, and, in his triumph over Hebe, of the superiority of that ideal over feminine beauty and character."

During the turn of the 19th & 20th Centuries prior to the first World War there arose in Northern Europe a sub-group of the Symbolist Movement called the "Cult of the Ephebe", where the male youth took center stage, exemplified by the works of Ferdinand Hodler, Hans Thoma, Magnus Enckell, Ludwig von Hofmann, Franz Stuck, Karl Hofer, and Sascha Schneider. The Symbolist's began with the idea or ideal first, and then sought to find in nature some "correspondence" or equivalence" that might be used in such a way as to announce that this art object was not a replication of that object in nature but rather a vehicle for recognition and contemplation of a higher reality. Objects needed to be presented in an iconic way to accomplish this transformation from object to art, from thing to evocation.

Caption: Standing Nude Ephebe With Shield and Staff
Artist: Ernest Sigismund Witkamp (1854-1897)
Medium: Oils on canvas
Dated: Signed and dated 1877 lower right hand corner

Here are a few examples of Witkamps work:

Portrait of a Young Woman 1894

Secret Amusement 1893

Girl in Atelier 1872

Joseph Uhl (1877-1945) Intaglio Print - Nude Boy

I was going through some photo folders of artworks and I found another example of Joseph Uhl's work. I recall this print was sold on eBay Germany last year but I missed my chance to own it. It is another great example of Uhl's technical skills and that photographic eye of his. Unusual in that it appears to be a female pre-adolescent child. You do not see many examples of those from the 19th or early 20th centuries.

Joseph Uhl (New York 1877 - Bergen 1945) American by birth he moved to Germany at an early age. He studied painting and printmaking at the Art Academy of Munich. Prior to WWI he concentrated on painting and began his mastery of etching and engraving after the war. He created prints of children, nudes, general figure studies, and allegorical images. His work in Germany owes much to the influence of the German Jugendstil movement (Art Nouveau).

Joseph Uhl ....Self-Portrait

I made the scan of this little work larger to show the detail of the drawing. The economy of line is really phenomenial. Uhl must have had the visual acquity of an eagle. The small print measures 4.50 inches by 2.25 inches. If I were a betting man I would wager the small pencil drawing listed in the next post is by Joseph Uhl also.

Caption: Nude Boy , rear view
Artist: Joseph Uhl (1877 - 1945)(Signed in pencil, lower right)
Medium: Intaglio print
Dated: Undated

Additional works by Joseph Uhl:

Morning Swim (Illustration courtesy of Hugh W. Little - Vintage Prints and Fine Arts)

Summer Joy

Unknown Artist - Boy Playing the Flute

As I was walking back to my computer room this morning I noticed sitting on the sideboard what qualifies as the smallest, brilliantly executed, pencil drawing in my collection. The drawing itself measures a scant 4.5 inches by 2.25 inches, but within that small area on paper is a beautifully executed little nude study. Obviously by the hand of a master. The detail in the little drawing is remarkable. The execution of this tiny nude study of an ephebe reminds me of the work of American-German artist Joseph Uhl (1877 New York City - 1945 Bergen, Germany). Uhl was a printmaker who occasionally did small nude portraits of children. The detail of this small drawing is truly amazing. My next post above will be on the work of Joseph Uhl and will feature a small print of a nude boy in my collection. I have seen several of Uhl's prints come up on German websites and they are fought over because of their rarity. I managed to get my print from a seller here in the states who could not read the signature on the print and had no clue what he had. Needless to say I did my homework and snatched it up for my collection. Take a look at the above print, this little drawing, and judge for yourselt.

Caption: Nude Boy Playing the Flute
Artist: Unknown (Possibly Joseph Uhl (1877-1945)
Medium: Pencil on paper
Dated: Late 19th, early 20th Century