Continuing the post from yesterday, this woman isn’t really wearing a bag, but she is wearing a bag-like mask in this drawing by Thomas Eakins. During the 19th century it was considered a step above prostitution for a woman to be a figure model, so to protect their virtue they wore masks during the drawing session. I’m sure artists were grateful for the women who risked ridicule to sit for them.
Still today there are widely held misconceptions about what a figure model does. Some wrong ideas are that it is some sort of sexually charged lurid thing and that artists are looking for a thrill and the model is some sort of exhibitionist. The truth is quite a different matter.
During a drawing or painting session the artist is busy thinking of angles, light, color, value, composition, handling, proportion, and a million other things that go into an artwork. And the model is thinking about finding a creative pose, holding the pose and not moving, making sure they have the right expression on their face, and more.
A figure drawing or painting session is really a collaboration between the artist and the model to achieve the best artwork possible.
Unfortunately there have been cases in the past that stand out, probably for their rarity, such as the painting Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebvre.
Marie, who posed for the painting, and her sister lived just outside Paris and were from a very poor family. They both moved to Paris in the waning decades of the 19th century and they became figure models. This painting was done when she was 19. She modeled for Lefebvre, who did have a reputation for getting too close to models, and she fell in love with him.
Unbeknown to Marie, Lefebvre was also carrying on with Marie’s sister, and roughly a year after Chloe was painted he suddenly dumped Marie to marry her. Marie didn’t want to ruin their happiness, so she kept a lid on her pain until two years later when she poisoned herself in the kitchen while a party she had been hosting carried on in the other room.
On a tour to Australia in the 1880’s the painting was auctioned off to a doctor who later sold her to Mr. Young. Chloe is now a national icon, and resides in the Young & Jackson Hotel in Melbourne.
It’s also one of my favorite paintings from the 19th century.
This last drawing is actually one of mine. It is black and white charcoal on Canson paper. This model has a very long and angular frame and is a challenge to get right since it’s easy to make her look out of proportion. I’ve had the opportunity to draw her three or four times and this is my favorite of the bunch.
I’m grateful to her, and all the other art models who’ve posed for me since there is no other way to learn drawing as quickly.