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Model Drawing

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (painted)

  • Date:

    1863 (painted)
    1863 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sykes, Godfrey, born 1824 - died 1866 (designer)
    Emms, J. (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 100, The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery, case Lunette, shelf 5

Physical description

Two female figures and two children. Woman and child sat at each side facing in and drawing from composition of cones and spheres centrally placed against backdrop of sky. Scrolls and ribbons frame top of lunette.

Place of Origin

London (painted)


1863 (painted)
1863 (designed)


Sykes, Godfrey, born 1824 - died 1866 (designer)
Emms, J. (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


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

Object history note

Model Drawing was commissioned 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.

Model Drawing, designed by Godfrey Sykes and painted by J. Emms, differs compositionally from the other lunettes in that the objects studied, rather than the artists, are placed firmly at the centre of the image. The cube, cone, sphere, disc, hoop and vase shape are arranged like a still-life on an elaborate table. The background of sky implies that this group is elevated, and above the table hang swags and fluttering ribbons. The props on the table were an important part of basic art-school education in the 19th-century, and represent the kinds of object, known as 'type solids', which were given to students to copy at the very beginning of their training, even before they began to draw from plaster casts of ornament or antique sculpture. By copying three-dimensional objects with pencil and chalk, students learnt how to create the illusion of volume in two dimensions with gradations of shading. Copying these basic forms was therefore at the very foundation of art-school training, and their exalted place in this lunette refers to their great symbolic significance.

Sykes's preparatory study for this painting (museum number 8142) has an inscription in the central cartouche which reads 'STAGE III / MODEL DRAWING', a direct reference to Regrave's National Course of Art Instruction. This inscription is absent from the oil painting. This was the first lunette produced for the Competition Gallery, and its qualitative difference from the others suggests that Sykes proposed a more rigidly programmatic decorative scheme than that which was eventually produced.

Godfrey Sykes (1824-1866) was a key figure in the decoration of the South Kensington Museum. Having begun his professional career as an apprentice to a Sheffield engraver, and later worked for himself designing showcards and silverware, in 1843 he enrolled at the newly-opened Sheffield School of Design. This was one of the government schools established to enable working craftsmen to learn the elements of design. Sykes was appointed assistant master at the school in 1856. His association with the Museum began in 1859 when he was recruited by Henry Cole to assist with the decorative schemes for the 1862 Exhibition (the successor to the Great Exhibition of 1851) and the new Horticultural Society's garden buildings. Sykes's use of terracotta for external decoration prompted the decision to use it for the new museum buildings. As John Physick notes, 'Sykes was so highly regarded that the Board decided that "his views on questions of decoration [were] to be adopted in future."' (Physick, p, 58.) Sykes went on to design elaborate decorative schemes for the principal parts of the new museum buildings: the North and South Courts and the Prince Consort's Gallery.

Only three years before his own early death in 1866, Sykes designed the tomb in Kensal Green cemetary of another artist whose work was exceptionally well represented in the Museum's collections, William Mulready (1786-1863).

Descriptive line

Decorative lunette painting, commissioned for the National Competition Gallery (now Rooms 100 and 101). Godfrey Sykes (designed) and J. Emms (painted), Model Drawing, 1863. Lunette 5 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

Model; Drawing; Cones; Spheres


Paintings; The Great Exhibition; History of the V&A; Fabric of the Building


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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