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An academic sketch of a nude man's back while holding a pole.

An academic study of a nude man (recto); head of a bearded old man (verso), 1830-1850, Attributed to Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Hesse, French, 1806 – 1879. Courtesy of Agnews, London.


Stripped Bare: The Academic Male Nude

Through January 15, 2024

Since the development of European art academies in the 1500s, the most promising artists at a pivotal moment of their training would be faced with a full-frontal test: to produce satisfactory drawings of living, breathing, nude male models, posed in the entire range of the body’s motion. The works installed in these two galleries from the department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs illustrate the long tradition of the male nude drawing.

Chief among these works is a new acquisition: Alexandre Hesse’s exemplary mid-nineteenth- century study of a Black model seen from behind. Given its context within this exhibition, the drawing is in many ways conventional—a detailed and life-like picture of a carefully posed man presumably chosen to model because his proportions approached those of the classical ideal. However, given the racial identity of its poser, the drawing is far from typical. By placing this recent acquisition in dialogue with the museum’s collection of male nude prints and drawings, this exhibit provides the impetus to explore the details and texture of this art historical tradition.

Main Building


Louis Marchesano, The Audrey and William H. Helfand
Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and Jalen Chang, former Carl Zigrosser Fellow

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