Exhibitions/ Art Object

Male Nude, Seen from Behind

Hippolyte Flandrin (French, Lyons 1809–1864 Rome)
or Paul Flandrin (French, Lyons 1811–1902 Paris)
ca. 1829–46
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas
25 3/8 x 13 3/8 in. (64.5 x 34 cm)
Credit Line:
The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III, and Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh, by exchange, 2003
Accession Number:
Not on view
It is difficult to differentiate the work of Hippolyte Flandrin from that of his brother Paul. The pronounced contours of this figure betray the influence of their teacher, J. A. D. Ingres, and either brother could have painted it as a figure study from life (académie) under his tutelage, as early as 1829–33. Alternatively, it may have been painted as a preparatory study for The Road to Calvary (1842–46), part of Hippolyte’s cycle of decorations for the church of Saint-Germain-des-Près, in Paris—which was executed partly by Paul. In spite of the inexorable rise in stature of landscape, the human figure retained a central role in nineteenth-century painting.
From the Renaissance onward, mastery of the human figure was a central aim of artistic instruction, and studies of the nude body—almost invariably male—are thus known as académies. The most influential proponent of this practice in the nineteenth century was Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who attracted scores of the most promising young artists to his atelier after he opened it as a "drawing school" in 1825 (see Andrew Carrington Shelton in Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch, exh. cat., New Haven, 1999, pp. 279, 289 nn. 34–35). The precociously talented Flandrin brothers, who began studying with Ingres in 1829, were among his most beloved and devoted pupils. In their respective careers they would become identified with distinct artistic genres—figure painting for Hippolyte and landscape for Paul—but each artist was talented in both fields. Indeed, it is often difficult to differentiate between their work.

As an academy, the aim of this study of a model seen in lost profile would have been to execute the figure with a palette restricted by minimal illumination. The pose conveys a certain ease, yet it is one that could be adapted for use in a fully realized composition in a variety of settings. This work comes from a group of oil studies sold by descendants of the Flandrins as a work by Paul, but Wheelock Whitney began to question the attribution soon after he acquired it (see Provenance). Subsequently Elena Marchetti examined it with the goal of elucidating traits characteristic of each brother (oral communication, May 30, 2012). She pointed out that when sketching together from the same model, Paul often yielded to Hippolyte by taking the sort of less frontal and in some ways more challenging view seen here, with its Ingresque exaggeration of the curved back. Sometimes but by no means in every instance, Paul completed the hands and feet of Hippolyte’s figures; only one artist is at work here. Despite the high level of finish, with details that might eventually point to Paul or Hippolyte, neither brother may yet be excluded definitively as its possible author. Marchetti further observed (email, September 26, 2012) that it may have served as the basis for the leftmost figure in the Road to Calvary (1842–46), part of Hippolyte’s ambitious decorative program (1839–63) for Saint-Germain-des-Près, Paris. She further suggested that, although somewhat unlikely, it could have been executed in conjuction with the painting. In the absence of documentation regarding the genesis of the Calvary, which was partially executed by Paul, it is not yet possible to place the Metropolitan study within its development definitively. (On the Saint-Germain cycle, see Bruno Horaist in Hippolyte, Auguste et Paul Flandrin: Une fraternité picturale au XIXe siècle, exh. cat., Paris, 1984, pp. 125–27.)

[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
the artist's family (until 1995; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 28, 1995, one of eight "académies d'homme," by Paul Flandrin under no. 84); [W. M. Brady & Co., New York, until 1996; sold on May 23 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1996)
New York. W. M. Brady & Co. "Drawings & Pictures 1790–1890: Recent Acquisitions," spring 1996, no. 12 (as "Academy of a Standing Man Seen from Behind, His Arms Crossed Behind His Back," by Paul Flandrin).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 59).

Mark Brady. Drawings & Pictures 1790–1890: Recent Acquisitions. Exh. cat., W. M. Brady & Co. New York, 1996, unpaginated, no. 12, ill. (color).

Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), p. 46, fig. 59 (color), dates it about 1830–38.

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