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William Hogarth, 1697–1764, British

Study of a Female Nude

Graphite, black chalk, and white chalk, with heightening on medium, moderately textured, brown laid paper
Sheet: 10 1/4 × 17 1/8 inches (26 × 43.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
female | figure study | nude | woman
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Cat. 147 [1977.14.4272] was almost certainly drawn by Hogarth in the early 1720s during his membership of the St. Martin's Lane Academy founded by Louis Chéron and John Vanderbank. And its use of crosshatching for modeling is highly characteristic of Chéron's drawing style. Life-drawing was an important component of the curriculum at the Academy, which from its inception hired female models "to make it the more inviting to subscribers." In the Analysis of Beauty Hogarth noted that "the human frame hath more of its parts composed of serpentine-lines than any other object in nature," and wrote at length of the importance of studying the human body: The skin…thus tenderly embracing and gently comforting itself to the varied shapes of every one the outward muscles of the body, soften'd underneath by the fat…is evidently a shell-like surface…form'd with the utmost delicacy in nature; and therefore the most proper subject of the study of every one, who desires to imitate the works of nature, as a master should do, or to judge of the performances of others as a real connoisseur ought. Although Hogarth was actively involved in the education of artists at his own St. Martin's lane Academy during the 1730s and 1740s, he came to doubt the value of such drawing exercises. He later recorded that he had begun "copying in the usual way, and had learnt by practice to do it with tolerable exactness" until "it occur'd to me that there were many disadvantages attended going on so well continually copying Prints and Pictures…may in even drawing after the life at academys…it is possible to know no more of the original when the drawing is finish'd than before it was begun." Hogarth regarded a highly-developed visual memory as a more valuable tool for the artist than drawing from life, and his adherence to this precept is indicated by the rarity of such studies by him. Hogarth is probably best known for the prints of "Modern Moral Subjects," which he designed and engraved, including A Rake's Progress Marriage A-la-Mode, and Industry and Idleness, a large proportion of his few surviving drawings are preliminary studies or cartoons for engravings. The finalized designs were transferred to a copper plate, and the engraved images appeared in reverse of the drawings. Cat. 148 [B1975.4.1543] is a preliminary study for the first plate of The Four Stages of Cruelty. Hogarth subsequently produced a more highly finished drawing for transfer to the plate. In his Autobiographical Notes Hogarth explained The Four Stages of Cruelty, were done in hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals, which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind, than any thing…neither great correctness of drawing or fine engraving were at all necessary but on the contrary would set the price of them out of…the reach of those for whom they were chiefly intended.

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