Laurits Tuxen - Male Nude in the Studio of Bonnat (1877)
Martin Ferdinand Quadal - Life Class in the Vienna Academy (1787)
Strike a pose! For Today’s December Double I’ve selected two works which show models at work, ‘Male Nude in the Studio of Bonnat’ by Danish painter Laurits Tuxen and ‘Life Class in the Vienna Academy’ by Moravian-Austrian painter Martin Ferdinand Quadal.
Let’s begin with ‘Studio of Bonnat.’ Tuxen's vertical composition is framed to accommodate the model, who is turned away from our vantage point while posing toward the sunlight, providing a wonderful highlight of his figure and effectively casting his backside in shadow. This is a great, dramatic rendering of the nude form, though Tuxen piece also directs our attention the painters in the background, seen creating their own works from this same subject standing before us. I love how the model towers over everyone within the scene, including that of our own vantage point, commanding this nude figure an admirable power, as he were a beautiful Apollo gracing his presence amongst the mortals. By use of perspective and light, Tuxen grants his nude an almost godlike stature.
Quadal's painting, on the other hand, demonstrates use of a more flattened perspective, representing his subjects from a distance so that one does not dwarf the other, as illustrated in Tuxen's piece. Though this approach by Quadal has a traditional, formal quality, his use of lighting, which to me resembles that of a movie studio—complete with crew gathered around the actor—gives a very modern feel to this 18th century painting. When first viewing 'Vienna Academy', this took me completely off guard. I would assume this space, designed specifically for figure study, was constructed to let natural light down in through the ceiling, or perhaps there's a more reasonable explanation, but nonetheless this work inadvertently achieves the look of modern interior lighting, and I think that's fantastic.
On an added note, the presentation of our model in 'Vienna Academy' strikes me as almost clinical, as if he were a specimen on observation. Given his role as model, perhaps that’s not too far off the mark. Whether or not this detached quality within the painting was intended by the artist, I find this notion fascinating and a great topic for discussion.