We return to the incomparable drawings of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1758--1823) with this standing male nude. Again, Prud’hon uses black and white chalk on blue-toned paper – cut narrow to accentuate the length and statuesque quality of the figure.
The light falls on the figure from the front, creating a white blaze on the upper torso and upper part of the stomach. The face, with its deep-set eyes and delicate nose and full-lipped, expressive mouth, seems almost Christ-like in repose. The expression is enigmatic, partially hidden by the sweep of delicately rendered hair.
Note the deep hues beneath the figure’s chin, left arm and pubic area. The light was obviously harsh and dramatic, and both the figure’s sculpted features and voluptuous musculature are accentuated to great effect. The navel, as well, seems rendered with an almost feminine flourish.
“Voluptuous” and “feminine” are perhaps provocative words when describing a male nude, but look again and the figure. Prud’hon’s figure drawing sometimes had the most remarkable bi-sexual quality: men often feminized or woman oddly muscular and statuesque. The figure here could well-be described as a strange mixture of Beyonce and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Prud’hon does not clearly delineate the hands of feet of the figure – it is clear that torso, arms and legs are the focus of our gaze. The fleshy, somewhat hippy lines of the stomach and thighs are underscored by a dark accent mark beside the figure, and the groin area is soft, flaccid and somewhat sexless.
Looking at the face … is it not possible to see just a passing resemblance to Prud’hon’s student, lover and artistic collaborator, Constance Mayer? I make no allusions – coy or otherwise – to Prud’hon’s relations with her, but if Mayer was indeed Prud’hon’s ideal, is it not possible that a hint, the faintest trace of her, could be found in even his most masculine compositions?
Prud’hon’s nude academic drawings have been revered for over 200 years, and art students have been drawing from copies and prints for nearly that long. They often hang in the halls of the Art Students League in New York City, where the most ambitious and scrupulous students look, learn … and occasionally genuflect.
More on Prud’hon and Constance tomorrow!