Studying with live models has been a core element of art and design education at RISD since the school’s earliest decades.
—Crawford Alexander Mann III, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow
Since ancient times, the model has been an essential aid for artists depicting the human figure. An artist’s model could be female or male, amateur or professional, anonymous or intimately known, and of any age, body type, ethnicity, or class. These two galleries offer a chronological look at the model, from figure drawings made four centuries ago in Europe’s oldest art academies to elaborately staged photographs produced within the last decade. Each work tells a unique story, inviting you to ask who these models are, why they were chosen, and what kind of exchange developed between artist and model during the creation of each image.
Drawn primarily from the Museum’s permanent collection, Changing Poses: The Artist’s Model reveals the variety of ways in which models have been assistants and muses for generations of artists. Exploring this history, you may recognize such period-specific themes and trends as the focus on the male nude within early art schools, the interest in costume in the 19th century as a signifier of cultural or class identity, the prevalence of the eroticized female body in modern art, and the recent dialogue between high art and fashion advertising. In addition, the model often participates in larger ongoing aesthetic and philosophical debates, most notably that between the real and the ideal. Does the artist see the model as a link to something tangible, natural, and true? Or is the model instead a starting point for stylistic experimentation or pursuit of a higher beauty?
This exhibition demonstrates that as the patterns and possibilities for working relationships between artists and models continue to expand and evolve, they also remain in dialogue with the past. The practice of working from the model links artists across time-informing, inspiring, and guiding many of the greatest figures in the history of art.