Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat (French, 18331922)
Jacob Wrestling the Angel, 1876
Pencil and black chalk on paper, 20 3/4 x 14 1/2 in.
Signed and dated lower left: L’Bonnat. 1876

This is either a highly finished study for, or a variant after, a painting that Bonnat exhibited at the Salon in 1876. With its emphasis on tensed musculature and the interaction of anatomical forms, this work illustrates perfectly how integral the numerous life drawings of nude male models (called académies because of their role as the most fundamental part of academic training) were to an artist’s formation of fully realized narrative compositions.

The drawing illustrates the Biblical passage (Genesis 32:23-31) in which Jacob spends an entire night wrestling with a mysterious angel after crossing the river Jabbok with his family. This enigmatic combat has been variously interpreted as man’s struggle against God, against Satan, or against himself.