Friday, 11 May 2018

Charles West Cope’s etching (with drypoint), “Life School Royal Academy”, 1865


Charles West Cope (1811–1890)

“Life School Royal Academy”, 1865, published in 1868 by Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834–1894) in “Etching and Etchers” (London).

Etching and drypoint on laid paper with (flattened) centrefold and full margins (as published) backed with a support sheet.
Size: (sheet) 25.3 x 30.6 cm; (plate) 19.9 x 28.7 cm; (image borderline) 15.6 x 25.2 cm
Inscribed on plate below the image borderline: (left) "CWC 1865"; (centre) "Life School Royal Acady"

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“… interior of the life school of the Royal Academy: artists in a curved line, under lamps, drawing at easels, from a model on a low round dias under a large lamp, with a drape and curtain on the left, standing with one leg in front of the other and drawing a sword.”
See also the description of this print at the Royal Academy:
National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne):
FAMSF (Fine Art Museums of San Francisco):

Condition: faultless impression in excellent condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, abrasions, stains or foxing) with only minimal signs of handling in terms of minor surface marks. The sheet is backed with archival (millennium quality) washi paper (to flatten the published centrefold which is now virtually invisible),

I am selling this historically important etching—one of the most famous images of a 19th century life class—for the total cost of AU$323 (currently US$244.11/EUR204.44/GBP179.77) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this superb impression that has been professionally flattened to minimise the crease of the centrefold when the print was published, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.


This etching of a 19th century life class (i.e. a drawing class featuring a nude figure as a model) at the Royal Academy is one of the most famous images of such a class. Its fame is partly because the portrayed scene is a strong and memorable composition with the curved arrangement of easels and overhead lights illuminating the nude model. Beyond the visually arresting theatricality of the scene, however, the image is also a rare and valuable historical document of how life classes were organised—and hopefully are still run.

From my own experience of setting up such classes, I thought I might offer a few insights about the organisation of classes like this …

A key principle in organising a large group of students in a life class is to propose that the group should arrange their easel and viewpoint according to whether they are left or right-handed. Usually right-handed students will find that the easel is best placed/angled so that they are facing the easel in a clockwise direction to the model, whereas a left-handed students will face the model in the reverse direction. Such an arrangement will allow for the students’ measuring arms to be closest to the model.

An issue that I see as a problem in this class is that some students have not angled their board that they are drawing upon so that it “faces” them squarely at 90 degrees to the angle of their head. This is especially important for students sitting at what are termed “donkeys” (i.e. a long stool that a student will sit astride and which has a support at one end to “hold” the drawing board). Again this is an important consideration, as parallax error will result when measuring and recording proportions if the drawing surface is not "square" with the student's angle of view.

Now that I am thinking about the problems associated with working on drawing donkeys I need to point out a very practical consideration: charcoal dust will fall from the drawing onto one’s legs when seated at a donkey unless a rag is placed strategically to catch the dust. From looking at this class I envisage the distress of going out for dinner following such a class with a stripe of black soot across one’s legs because no preventative measures were in place.







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