These two studies were made in the drawing academy that Louis Chéron and John Vanderbank established in 1720 off St Martin's Lane, after the failure of the Great Queen Street Academy. Although Vertue does not list Lens among the subscribers, his presence there is suggested by the date on the verso of drawing [A] 1722, as well as by Lens's ownership of at least twenty academy figure drawings by Chéron. The first sheet, shows a standing figure, with right arm up, leaning on a series of rough wooden boxes; the second, shows the model seated and from behind. Rapidly handled in red chalk, Lens’s loose underdrawing is apparent throughout, suggesting that these sheets are both life studies rather than finished exercises. The omission of a right hand in the standing figure also points to them being ad vivum.
The arrangement of both the standing and seated figures can be found amongst the selection of poses devised by Chéron and illustrated in the album of his surviving academy drawings in the British Museum. However, Lens was not part of the generation of young artists who were influenced by Chéron's teaching at the academy, and he diverges from Chéron who paid meticulous attention to the muscles of the torso. By contrast, in the drawing manual Lens published in 1751, he advised readers to draw: 'according to the Rules of Anatomy... when the Limbs and Members are drawn with few and large Muscles, they shew themselves with Majesty and Beauty.'
Four figure drawings in one of Edward Byng's albums in the British Museum can now be attributed to Lens, on the basis of comparisons with the two red chalk drawings described here. All six drawings display the same hatching technique and Knelleresque modelling, such as in the thighs in the standing figure; the left hand and wrist and the dark shading running down the left arm. Croft-Murray does not offer an attribution for these four sheets, while Stewart notes their origins 'somewhere in the studio or circle of Kneller’; the museum currently attributes one fully to Kneller.
Lens's work was greatly in demand in the early 1720s. Following his appointment in 1720 as 'Painter in Enamell' to George I, he produced a spectacular series of copies after old master paintings in a series of notable collections. He is much less well known for his life drawings, but these two sheets offer important evidence for the ambitions of artists working in London’s short-lived academies in the 1720s.
- Lens's sale, Christopher Cock’s, 16 February 1737, lots 137, 201, 392.
- Bernard Lens, A New and Compleat Drawing Book, London 1751, p.5.
- Edward Croft-Murray and Paul Hulton, Catalogue of British Drawings: volume one: XVI and XVII Centuries, London, 1960, vol.1, p.264 Album 8, nos 68-71; J. Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford, 1983, pp.170-1, nos 58-61; British Museum, museum no.1897,0813.9.68 is currently given to Kneller.