Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Écorché

In the late 1870s, Thomas Eakins and his colleague Dr. Keen at the Pennsylvania Academy realized to their dismay that their dissected cadavers were getting a little past their prime.

So they had them cast in plaster. Eakins cast his own hand, too. Later on the plaster casts were converted to bronze.

The tradition of studying skinless cadavers goes back to Leonardo da Vinci. When you remove the dermal layers, the insertion points and the overlapping of the muscles becomes much more apparent.

A body without its skin is called a “flayed figure” or “écorché.” I did this study of an écorché dog from a plate in the book Animal Painting & Anatomy, by Frank Calderon, (London 1936, now Dover)


The French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon created this écorché figure as a study aid for artists. Écorchés were in common use at the École des Beaux Arts in the 19th century.

In this painting of a sculptor by Edouard Joseph Dantan, there’s an écorché figure behind the model.

Some art schools and ateliers have returned to using Houdon’s écorchés, and some present-day artists have created new écorché reference sculptures.

A few retail sources carry écorchés, but you should get a good look before buying because some castings are many generations away from the original. Also, consider your intent. A white écorché is better for understanding the planar geometry, while a polychromed, medical-style écorché might be better for studying the muscular anatomy. Example of a polychromed ecorche: link.
Example of white ecorches: link.

"Freedom of Teach" reference figures, link. (Thanks, Bowlin, Mr. Atrocity, and Drew!)

Feel free to pimp other sources in the comments.
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Related GurneyJourney post on plaster drawing casts.

18 comments:

Timpa said...

Great! A few schools still have Ecorche classes, like Arts Students League and Grand Central academy I believe. I can figure out why Sculpture House wouldn't hire a professional photographer to take those pics either...

Drew said...

Ah, the walking cadaver. Memories of drawing studies in life drawing class as the hot studio lamps gave the only amount of light in the whole room. Fun times, fun times.

Those bronze castings are slightly creepy, despite the fact I'd want to get a hold of one just to study it. And is it just me, or is there only a handful of classic ecorche casts that everyone copied? The one at our school definitely looked like a copy of a copy, and I often wondered how many other students had a great ancestor of one of those casts.

Bowlin said...

That looks like a really great figure to study muscles from! I have the Andrew Cawrse from "Freedomofteach" website and treasure it. It show's to some degree how the muscles are attached underneath others. But this other one is seems almost more helpful in the other direction being covered in skin. Thanks for the link!

Mr Atrocity said...

There's a company called Anatomy Tools, who were called "Freedon of Teach" when I bought my figure from them. They do a variety of anatomy studies, many by Andrew Cawrse, and I've been really pleased with the one I bought.

Drew said...

Yeah, Freedom of Teach's products are pretty great. During the New York comic con this year, they showed off a new product they're rolling out that was a 1/6 - 1/5 scale of a human skull, with a movable, detachable jaw and it was also detachable from its base (all held together by some pretty powerful magnets.)

Alas, their stuff is a bit too rich for me at the moment.

Jesse Hamm said...

Nice work by Dantan. I like that the model is just chilling out in the studio; it's rare to see that kind of portrayal in 19th century art.

I just found a similar Dantan painting while surfing, of a cast being made of a model's leg. Neat glimpses behind the scenes.

Nicole Cardiff said...

Just wanted to chime in and say I'm also quite impressed with my Freedom of Teach figure. I look at it every time I need to do extensive musculature, and it really helps.

Tidah said...

http://www.artnatomia.net/uk/artnatomyProgram.html

Dave Golas said...

What timing! I just got home after my Ecorche class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts! We were using plaster versions of those casts to determine them muscular anatomy of the legs. I love it!

Tidah said...

The above link is an application that lets you see facial muscles and how they work to make expressions. Click on Application, then Level II to get to the realistic face with the muscle groups that you can change separately.

(Sorry about the double post. I'm not running at full-speed today, I'm afraid.)

etc, etc said...

SculptShop also carries the Eliot Goldfinger dissection casts.

Frank-Joseph said...

My anatomy instructor from Art Center, Rey Bustos, teaches an entire class on creating ecorches. His awesome website has some examples of his students' work (along with works in progress!).

Here's a link to the ecorche I created in "Rey's Anatomy."

Erik Bongers said...

If you google on "KÖRPERWELTEN" and look at the images you get a glimpse of a couple of exhibitions by a German 'taxidermist' of some sort that 'siliconizes' human bodies.

Very interesting for artists.
There's an official site on BodyWorlds but it doesn't feature much visual material.

Erik Bongers said...

This Belgian site has some good images.

Alison said...

Wow! My life drawing class just did some studies from a few of Jean-Antoine Houdon ecorches! We were doing cross contour muscle studies.

Sadly, I think the John the Baptist ecorche that the school has is quite a few generations away from the original. I didn't realize how much detail the original had!

Björn said...

There are two schools in Europe that teaches Ecorché sculpting -- LTU in Sweden and Florence academy of art.

William said...

i won't question the usefullness of anatomy studies. of course they are necessary, and a basic knowledge is required if you want to make a solid drawing.

but students and artists should be warned not to be involved too much into the study of muscles and bones. A dutch master once critized the nudes drawn by some of his fellow artists because they looked like "dried fish", of course because the underlying muscle structure was too visible.

and i recall an impressionest painter, who once said that when drawing from life, you should forget all you know and focus on what you see, or your brain will mislead you.

personally, i think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. i let myself guide by what i see, but it's nice to fall back on a basic understanding of anatomy and how it influences form and shadow. knowledge of anatomy should not become a study in itself; rather it should be used as a tool, but one that is indispensible.

Johan said...
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