This powerful figure drawing was made by James Ward when he was visitor of the Royal Academy Schools in 1819. As visitor, Ward would have been expected to set the life model for the young students to then draw, he would also have been expected to make a study himself of the pose to encourage and inspire the students of the Academy Schools. This heavily worked drawing is the result of Ward’s period as visitor and shows the time and care that Academician’s took in the Schools.
James Ward was elected visitor in 1818, in total eight Academicians rotated the role at once, drawing lots to determine who would serve when. Ward was elected with William Beechey, Augustus Wall Callcott, Henry Howard, Thomas Lawrence, James Northcote, William Owen and Thomas Phillips. They were paid 10s. 6d. for each time they attended. There had been some objection to Ward’s serving as a visitor, supposedly because of his being a painter of animals and this may explain both the care and ambition of the present drawing. Contemporary evidence suggests that posing two models was comparatively unusual. Stephen Francis Rigaud, who entered the Life Academy in 1793, recorded an elaborate pose set by the sculptor John Bacon:
I remember Mr Bacon once setting a well composed group of two men, one in the act of slaying the other; or a representation of the history of Cain and Abel, which was continued for double the time allowed for a single figure, and which gave general satisfaction to the students.
Ward’s drawing of two men wrestling shows the ambition of the Royal Academy syllabus. The dynamic pose was designed to enable young students to grapple with the complex relationship of two figures in action. Ward has lavished particular attention on the musculature of the figures, pointing to the underlying study of anatomy which was also key to the Academy syllabus. Inscribed by Ward ‘set when Visitor at the RA 1819’, this drawing offers important evidence for the life of the Royal Academy at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
This precisely accords with the present group, which shows particularised models engaged in combat; the addition of figures in the background suggests a narrative context to the group. Turner, in turn, as Visitor from 1812 became famous for setting the life-model in postures recalling classical sculpture. Redgrave recorded that Turner: ‘when a visitor in the life school he introduced a capital practice, which it is to be regretted has not been continued: he chose for study a model as nearly as possible corresponding in form and character with some fine antique figure, which he placed by the side of the model posed in the same action.’
- Ed. William L. Pressly, ‘Facts and Recollections of the XVIIIth Century in a Memoir of John Francis Rigaud Esq. R.A.’, The Walpole Society, 1984, vol.L, p.90.
- Andrew Wilton has suggested that Turner was planning to use the figures in one of his finished historical works.
- Richard and Samuel Redgrave, A Century of British Painters, New York, 1981, p.256.