François-Léon Benouville (French, 1821–1859)
Study of a Man’s Head in Profile
Graphite on wove paper, 4 3/8 x 4 3/8 in.
Stamped in red ink lower right: Léon Benouville
This study of a man’s head is characteristic of Benouville’s consummate draftsmanship, attention to detail, and strict adherence to the academic principles of the tête d’expression (expressive head). These drawings were representations of emotion through facial expression, which students completed as part of their training and submitted to annual competitions. Benouville’s skill in this event is demonstrated through a Man’s Head in Profile, as well as his second (1843) and first place (1844) prizes in the contest. In 1843 Benouville also won second place in the Prix de Rome for his painting Oedipus exiled from Thebes (location unknown, study in the Musée D’Orsay). This sheet may have been a study for that painting, since the details of a man’s head and tensed shoulders match well with a man in the painting, who stands behind Oedipus and his daughter Antigone, raising his arm. This attention to detail was a hallmark of Benouville’s work. Indeed, he was known to strive for perfection and, as noted by the critic Philippe Burty in 1859, he created countless preparatory studies of fragments and details for his compositions.