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Drawing from Life

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (painted)

  • Date:

    1868 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Yeames, William Frederick, born 1835 - died 1918 (painter)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on cavas

  • 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 100, The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery, case Lunette, shelf 9

Physical description

Interior with ionic column.On the right four male figures in Renaissance costume (15th century) drawing a male model on the left. Signed 'W. Yeames' and dated '1868' in bottom left corner.

Place of Origin

London (painted)


1868 (painted)


Yeames, William Frederick, born 1835 - died 1918 (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on cavas

Marks and inscriptions

Signed by the artist in bottom left corner


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

Object history note

Drawing 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.

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.

William Frederick Yeames (1835-1918) was a founder member of the St John's Wood Clique. Like other members of the group he specialised in historical genre painting, particularly of the Elizabethan and Cromwellian periods. His best-known work, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1878, is the Cromwellian scene And When Did You Last See Your Father? (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Yeames was an examiner for the South Kensington Design Schools, and in addition to being asked to contribute to the decoration of the National Competition Gallery at the South Kensington Museum, he also designed two mosaics for the Kensington Valhalla, one representing the sculptor Pietro Torrigiani (1866), the other Hans Holbein (1867). Yeames was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1866 and Royal Academician in 1878.

Descriptive line

Decorative lunette painting, commissioned for the National Competition Gallery (now Rooms 100 and 101). W.F. Yeames, Drawing from Life, 1868. Lunette 9 for gallery 100, east 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

Drawing; Columns (architectural elements); Model; Nude


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


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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