By Liz Bruchet, on 26 March 2013
What is a horse doing in the studio? The memoirs of Jessie Hall, a young student studying at the Slade in 1885, help explain. Now housed in UCL Special Collections (and charmingly titled My Year at the Slade School: The very happiest year of my life! Shall I let it pass unrecorded? No! The poorest moments of it were better than letting it sink into oblivion!), Hall’s memoirs describe one particular assignment in the life drawing room:
“A Horseman Bringing News of a Battle to the Inhabitants of a City”, that was the subject for this month and I made up my mind to do it. The model was posed in various positions … one position one day, another the next, sometimes the same model for the different poses, sometimes the model was changed. I wondered what we were to do about the horse for the horseman, and imagined that we would have some of the equine plaster casts up for the occasion.
I was agreeably surprised! We were told to go down to the Lower Life [room] one afternoon, where the men students studied, where one side of the room had a paved floor and a huge pair of double doors to enable animals to be brought in as models from the livery stables behind the College. There stood a live horse as a model! It is not easy to draw a horse in 20 minutes. Sketching as fast as my poor powers would let me, I never could get the legs in.
Hall Biography, 1924, p.4, UCL Special Collections, MS ADD 327
Hall’s accounts – rich with detail of the day-to-day life of the Slade student – recall the students’ nervousness as the tutors inspected their work, with particular awe for the ‘prophetic eye’ of the Slade Professor Alphonse Legros. She lists the subjects studied in the Antique Room, describes the smell of warm paint infused by the water pipe heating system in the life room; of being selected by the Professor to sit in the best seat in the Life Room; and of working through the weekend to prove she was much more than a dilettante.