From the Renaissance onward, mastery of the human figure was a central aim of artistic instruction, and studies of the nude body—almost invariably male—are thus known as académies. The most influential proponent of this practice in the nineteenth century was Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who attracted scores of the most promising young artists to his atelier after he opened it as a "drawing school" in 1825 (see Andrew Carrington Shelton in Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch, exh. cat., New Haven, 1999, pp. 279, 289 nn. 34–35). The precociously talented Flandrin brothers, who began studying with Ingres in 1829, were among his most beloved and devoted pupils. In their respective careers they would become identified with distinct artistic genres—figure painting for Hippolyte and landscape for Paul—but each artist was talented in both fields. Indeed, it is often difficult to differentiate between their work.
As an academy, the aim of this study of a model seen in lost profile would have been to execute the figure with a palette restricted by minimal illumination. The pose conveys a certain ease, yet it is one that could be adapted for use in a fully realized composition in a variety of settings. This work comes from a group of oil studies sold by descendants of the Flandrins as a work by Paul, but Wheelock Whitney began to question the attribution soon after he acquired it (see Provenance). Subsequently Elena Marchetti examined it with the goal of elucidating traits characteristic of each brother (oral communication, May 30, 2012). She pointed out that when sketching together from the same model, Paul often yielded to Hippolyte by taking the sort of less frontal and in some ways more challenging view seen here, with its Ingresque exaggeration of the curved back. Sometimes but by no means in every instance, Paul completed the hands and feet of Hippolyte’s figures; only one artist is at work here. Despite the high level of finish, with details that might eventually point to Paul or Hippolyte, neither brother may yet be excluded definitively as its possible author. Marchetti further observed (e-mail, September 26, 2012) that it may have served as the basis for the leftmost figure in the Road to Calvary (1842–46), part of Hippolyte’s ambitious decorative program (1839–63) for Saint-Germain-des-Près, Paris. She further suggested that, although somewhat unlikely, it could have been executed in conjuction with the painting. In the absence of documentation regarding the genesis of the Calvary, which was partially executed by Paul, it is not yet possible to place the Metropolitan study within its development definitively. (On the Saint-Germain cycle, see Bruno Horaist in Hippolyte, Auguste et Paul Flandrin: Une fraternité picturale au XIXe siècle, exh. cat., Paris, 1984, pp. 125–27.)
[2013; based on research undertaken in conjunction with Miller 2013]