Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Painful Poses

Artists’ models often had to endure difficult poses in the Royal Academy.

“The pose is occasionally very painful to retain for any length of time, especially when the head is turned or the arms uplifted,” said M.H. Spielmann, a contemporary observer. Models that moved the least bit ruined their reputation as a sitter.

A model’s uplifted arm was often suspended by ropes or chains. The dying horseman for the painting “Last Call” by the sculptor Charles Bell Birch (1832-1893) held onto a bar attached to the rafters, while his “horse” was raised up on pulleys.
Second image (and Birch bio) at

M.H. Spielmann in Magazine of Art, 1888, page 139.


The fearless threader said...

I'm a model as well as an artist and understand that sometimes the poses needed are difficult to maintain. But on the other side of it I want the people working from my poses to have good forms.

David Glenn said...

I bet he felt stiff for a while.

Julia Lundman said...

I recently learned that some sculptors suspend their models with a special cloth that is used in the training of dancers for the Cirque de Soleil show. It is a very strong silk, very expensive, and made especially for the purpose of circus training. Apparently the only place you can purchase this cloth is in Las Vegas, so I've been told.

At any rate, apparently the sculptor Richard McDonald will suspend the cloth from the ceiling, creating a loop around the model's waist or arm, whatever needs to be suspended. The model usually cannot hold this pose for very long, so he sculpts the anatomy, has the model get into the pose using the cloth, who then holds it for like a minute - just enough to capture a visual memory of what he needs.

Anonymous said...

Here is a painting of one of David's students, Leon-Mathieu Cochereau:
Pay attention to the rope above the model (which serves, you guess it, to suspend the uplifted arm).

Unknown said...

It's an interesting proposition, gathering reference for a figure in motion. Photography has made it a lot easier. One of the biggest problems, especially with nude figures, is that the muscles used to maintain a pose are often not those that are prominent in the course of an action, and suspending a model from an extremity, as in the engraving, reverses the muscular tension, rendering the active passive. Since the horseman was clothed, it wasn't as big of a problem. As for the the work of art in the post, it's a toss-up as to which is the more vainglorious action, the cavalry charge, or the attempt to sculpt it life-size!

My Pen Name said...

Gary good point. I guess that's where anatomy training comes in.. It makes pre-photograph paintings and sculpture (like berninni's david) all the more impressive.