“Look on the model with respect…”

Henri Matisse, Untitled (Seated Nude), ca. 1908

Matisse on models: “I depend entirely on my model, who I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature…. And then I become a slave of that pose.” Henri Matisse, Untitled (Seated Nude), ca. 1908. Ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 1/4 in. Gift of Marjorie Phillips, 1984. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Proving that no occupation is un-strikeable, nude models in France are threatening a strike for better wages and job benefits. Despite the many languid figurative works that may imply that nude modeling is nothing more than draping one’s body over a chaise, even those sessions can be plenty challenging. John Sloan, in his treatise Gist of Art (1939), offers this insight into the artist/model exchange:

The important thing to bear in mind while drawing the figure is that the model is a human being, that it is alive, that it exists there on the stand. Look on the model with respect, appreciate his or her humanity. Be very humble before that human being. Be filled with wonder at its reality and life. There is a human creature that lives and breathes and feels, a thing with a mind and character of its own—not a patchwork of light and shadow, color shapes.

Sometimes when I come into the classroom I look at the model and see that she is shivering with cold or suffering in some difficult post she is trying to hold too long. You look up at her and back at the paper, tick-tock, back and forth—all you are looking for is some detail of the appearance of the figure.

Congenial Spirits: Intercontinental

West Parlor

John Sloan's The Wake of the Ferry II (left) and Gustave Courbet's Rocks at Mouthier (right) in the West Parlor. (Photo by Amy Wike)

Duncan Phillips saw American modern artists as equal to their European counterparts and often installed their works side by side. The house parlors are currently hung in this spirit, with American painter John Sloan’s The Wake of the Ferry II (1907)  alongside  French artist Gustave Courbet’s Rocks at Mouthier (c. 1855).