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La Première Pose

Howard Roberts, American, 1843 - 1900

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America



Height: 51 1/4 inches (130.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 211, American Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Howard Roberts, 1929

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This sculpture’s sensual portrayal of a young model posing nude for the first time offended many visitors at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Its defenders, however, praised the marble’s subtle realism, declaring it equal to the best European work of the time. Like many American artists, Roberts studied in Paris, where nude subjects were more common.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Howard Roberts, like his fellow Philadelphian Thomas Eakins, was among the first of two generations of Americans who flocked to Paris to study art. Although both he and Eakins mastered the French academic style of portraying the human figure, Roberts remained more closely tied to contemporary French art and, unlike Eakins, returned to Paris to work on major projects such as La Première Pose. When it was shown at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, this sculpture was acclaimed as an unequaled tour de force of American sculpture for the subtlety and realism of its modeling, a match in technique for any French work. Its subject, a young model overcome with shyness at posing nude for the first time, was considered, if anything, "too French" in conception. Critics claimed that it was a deliberately scandalous excuse to portray the female nude with sensual realism. Its defenders, however, argued that it was a chaste and sympathetic characterization of the model's predicament. In any case, La Première Pose brought a new sophistication of subject and technique to American sculpture. Darrel Sewell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 286.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.