The Male Nude at the Wallace Collection
The male nude has undergone a startling reappraisal over the last couple of years, and this exhibition at the Wallace Collection is the latest in an increasingly fascinating investigation into the history of the genre.
On loan from the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, these astonishing 18th century drawings complement and partially define the root of the existing art shown within this ornate family-owned gallery. The drawings, done in predominantly white and black chalk with a little colour thrown in for emphasis on muscle structure here and there, are known as académies due to the heavy association they hold with the Academy itself.
The foundation of the male figure as the quintessential form of beauty is shown exquisitely with such exact rendition of detail; fine focus on extremities and muscle tone abounds with an overall fluidity that seems to ripple upon the canvas. These works are extraordinary in themselves, but the director-cum-curator is clear on the point that they are truly “case studies” – the accumulation of years of study in order to arrive at the prestigious point of representing the male nude on paper. The male body was considered the most prestigious of all genres, being the form taken by gods and heroes. As such, mythology runs rife within this exhibition, for example as with Hercules at Rest, left profile by Ménageot.
This idolisation of the male form is apparent in the very nature of the work; artists such as Rigaud, Pierre, Boucher and Jean-Baptiste Isabey convey a sense of strength combined with loving sensuality in the finely shadowed exactness of their drawings. These are clearly studies on the male form, but they hold a certain beauty that goes far beyond mere progression of artistic skill.
The exhibition is small but contains more than enough to leave one gasping for a brew, and the Wallace Restaurant is just up the stairs from the show. With a wonderful ambience, it’s a beautifully open retreat and has a lot to choose from with a fantastically diverse menu – a little pricey, perhaps, but well worth it for the atmosphere and the feel of the gallery itself.
Photos: Jay Shaw-Baker
The Male Nude is at the Wallace Collection until 19th January 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.