Art education in 19th-century Britain was shaped by four London-based organisations: the Royal Academy Schools, the Government Schools of Design, the Department of Science and Art (based in this museum) and the Slade School of Art. Each was driven by powerful ideologies which dictated students' training.
These drawings, by students and teachers, reflect the different principles and practices of each school. They also reveal more general changes in emphasis over the 19th century. As subject matter, antique sculpture was gradually replaced by depictions of un-idealised human figures. Stylistically, the earlier insistence on a high level of technical finish gave way to a more spontaneous, sketchy kind of drawing.
Maria Brooks - Study of a plaster cast of The Borghese Gladiator
Maria Brooks (active 1868-90) Student at the Department of Science and Art Schools Study of a plaster cast of The Borghese Gladiator 1872 Black chalk Museum no. D.150-1885 The schools run by the Department of Science and Art became notorious for their insistence on a laborious drawing technique. Painstaking cross-hatching and minute stippling meant that a drawing like this could take months to complete. Although women were excluded from the Royal Academy, they were permitted to study at the government-run schools.
John Constable - Study of a male nude
In the Academy life room, living models were often posed to resemble antique sculpture or figures from old master paintings. The model here strikes a pose derived from the prophet Jonah in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. Constable followed the curriculum at the Schools even though it had little bearing on his subsequent career as a landscape painter.
Alphonse Legros - Head study
When the Slade School of Art was founded in 1871 it advocated the French principle of constant study from the life model. The French artist Legros taught for many years at the Slade, where his emphasis on swift, brilliant draughtsmanship was influential. This is the kind of study he would make against the clock in front of his students.
Luke Fildes - Study of a plaster cast of a sculptural fragment
The Department of Science and Art took charge of art and design education in the 1850s. Its comprehensive curriculum, the National Course of Art Instruction, dictated teaching practice in Britain until the end of the century. Plaster casts of sculptural fragments, natural forms and ornament replaced the life model as the focal point of teaching.
William Edward Frost - Study of a skeleton
By the early 19th century, despite the continuing emphasis on classical sculpture, a thorough study of anatomy had become increasingly important to the Royal Academy's curriculum. Illustrated books, human skeletons and other anatomical models were essential equipment.
William Mulready - Study of a plaster cast of The Wrestlers
At the Royal Academy students would spend months or even years copying plaster casts before they were considered ready to graduate to living models in the 'Life Room'. This drawing qualified Mulready for promotion. The complex ancient sculpture he chose allowed him to demonstrate his mastery in creating the illusion of volume.
William Edward Frost - Study of the muscles of a male figure
A student applying to enter the Royal Academy would have to spend three months as a 'Probationer', making drawings from casts and anatomical specimens. Frost made this and the adjacent drawing for the entry exam. In this one, he copied an engraving of an écorché (skinned) male figure.
Joseph Mallord William Turner - Study of a plaster cast of The Belvedere Torso
Students at the Royal Academy Schools began their training in the 'Antique Academy' by copying from plaster casts of classical sculpture. These works were considered to represent the highest point of artistic achievement. The Belvedere Torso, cast from the classical fragment in the Vatican Museums, was an essential model for aspiring artists.
Henry Tonks - Studies of a female nude
Tonks was an influential teacher at the Slade. Having trained initially as a surgeon, he brought a profound knowledge of anatomy to his second career. He taught students to make numerous rapid studies from the model and insisted that getting the contours right was more important than producing a finished composition.
William Mulready - Study of a male nude
Study from the life model was marginal to the National Course of Art Instruction. Nonetheless, the V&A, which administrated the curriculum, bought many drawings by Mulready as student examples. Mulready drew from the life throughout his long career. He made this naturalistic study at the 'Kensington Life Academy', an informal group of professional artists who met three evenings a week.
William Dyce - study of the architrave of an ancient Roman building
Education in art and design underwent radical reform in the 1830s in order to meet the demands of industry. Dyce, superintendent of the first state-funded school of design, banished the life model and instead set students to copy antique and Renaissance ornament. He hoped this would teach trainee industrial designers about the 'correct' decorative use of natural forms.