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Modelling from Life

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (painted)

  • Date:

    1868 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Crowe, Eyre, born 1824 - died 1910 (painter)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Conserved with the support of The Pilgrim Trust, with additional thanks to The Worshipful Company of Grocers

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Photography Centre, Room 101, The Sir Elton John and David Furnish Gallery, case Lunette, shelf 9

Physical description

Three figures on the left in Renaissance costume. The right hand figure in this group creates a sculpture from seated nude model on the right. Signed 'E. Crowe' in bottom right corner.

Place of Origin

London (painted)


1868 (painted)


Crowe, Eyre, born 1824 - died 1910 (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

Signed by the artist in bottom right corner


Height: 143.5 cm measured from highest point of lunette, Width: 263.5 cm

Object history note

Modelling from Life was commissioned in 1868 to decorate one of eighteen lunette-shaped recesses in the upper portion of rooms 100 and 101 (at that time the National Competition Gallery). The lunettes were removed just before the Second World War and placed in store. This painting, along with the eight others made for the west wall of room 101, was conserved and reinstalled in its original location in August 2010.

Historical significance: The National Competition Gallery (now rooms 100 and 101) in the East Ranges of the Museum was completed in 1864-65. At that time it was formed of two parallel top-lit rooms; these were used for the marking and display of work by art students in Department of Science and Art-run schools across the country. Richard Redgrave, who was placed in charge of the decoration of the gallery in 1863, proposed to commission paintings for the eighteen lunettes along the upper sections of the walls. The project, managed jointly by Redgrave and Henry Cole, continued for thirteen years; several lunettes were completed and in position by 1868, although work was not completed fully until 1876.

Broadly speaking, there were two stages in the production of the lunettes. Most of those created towards the beginning of the period were decorative, allegorical paintings carried out by art students from designs by Godfrey Sykes, Frank Moody, Alfred Morgan and Redgrave. A second stage was initiated in November of 1867 by William Frederick Yeames who contacted Cole and suggested that he should be commissioned for the project. Initial plans to commission other artists of the stature of Leighton, Watts and Poynter were scaled down, and the core of those chosen were historical genre painters from the loose association of artists known as the St John's Wood Clique: Yeames himself, G.D. Leslie, Henry Stacy Marks and D.W. Wynfield. Cole held a meeting with the artists to establish a theme for the lunettes, and, appropriately for a gallery in which students' work was displayed and judged, it was decided that the paintings should represent the practices of drawing, painting and sculpture in a programmatic representation of Redgrave's curriculum for art schools, the National Course of Art Instruction. The resulting subjects treated by the compositional canvases included life drawing, modelling from the life, study of anatomy, landscape painting, flower painting and still life drawing.

The various artistic activities represented in the paintings are set within relevant historical contexts; each takes place within the period and place considered to have fostered its inception or its apogee. So drawing the skeletal structure of the body is set in Renaissance Florence; still-life drawing is given a 17th-century Flemish setting; and landscape sketching takes place in 19th-century England. Eyre Crowe's Modelling from the Life follows this scheme by representing Michelangelo sculpting a male nude directly from the life. The model was posed by Sapper Nellis, one of the Royal Engineers who acted as clerks, storemen, model-makers, sweepers and firemen at the South Kensington site (Physick (1982), p. 84) .

Although born in London, Eyre Crowe (1824-1910) spent his early years largely in Paris, and in 1839 entered the studio of the celebrated French history painter Paul Delaroche. He later settled in London and registered at the Royal Academy Schools. The first painting he exhibited at the Royal Academy was a historical genre painting, Master Prynne Searching Archbishop Laud's Pockets in the Tower. He became secretary to his cousin, the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and accompanied him on a lecture tour of America in 1852 as his 'factotum and amanuensis'. After his return to England, Crowe built a successful career as a painter of genre and historical subjects, often drawing on 18th-century literature. He exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1857 to 1908, but never attained the rank of Academician. He was an 'honorary member' of the St John's Wood Clique.

From 1859 Crowe acted as occasional examiner and inspector of the Government Schools of Art. In addition to this involvement with the South Kensington Museum, he was asked to design mosaics of William Hogarth and Sir Christopher Wren for the 'Kensington Valhalla'.

Descriptive line

Decorative lunette painting, commissioned for the National Competition Gallery (now Rooms 100 and 101). Eyre Crowe, Modelling from Life, 1868. Lunette 9 for Room 101, west wall (commencing from south end).

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

John Physick, The Victoria and Albert Museum: the History of its Building, London 1982, pp. 83-87.
Jim Dimond, Susan Owens and Sophie Reddington, 'The conservation of twenty paintings for the V&A's National Competition Gallery', The Picture Restorer, no. 38, Spring 2011, pp. 14-16.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Sculpture; Nude; Models (people)


Paintings; History of the V&A; Fabric of the Building


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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