The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, the main London house of its former owners, the Marquesses of Herford and Sir Richard and Lady Wallace, was bequeathed to the British Nation in 1897. It is a stunning collection of art, but particularly rich in paintings, furniture, porcelain, clocks and other objects from France in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is therefore appropriate that the Collection has a temporary exhibition running until late January with nearly forty studies of the male nude, drawn between the late seventeenth and the late eighteenth centuries. The drawings on loan from the the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris include works by many of the artists represented in the Wallace Collection, such as Rigaud, Boucher, Nattier, Carle van Loo, Gros and Jean-Baptiste Isabey.
The drawings hark back to an era where studies of the male nude were obligatory in French art academies, at a time when they were trying to reposition French art after the Italian Renaissance. The drawings are particularly interesting where more than one artist drew the same model, but they are rather stereotypical, hark back to the Italian Renaissance, and become almost predicable. The are however an interesting commentary on French art training of the time and compliment the collection of French painting upstairs in the main collection. They also anticipate those great neo-classical artists during Napoleon’s time such as Jacques-Louis David, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix.
Adrian Hamilton in the Independent writes the most comprehensive review of the exhibition, suggesting that this rigid part of art training stifled, rather that enhanced creativity.