The Naked Truth: Art Student’s Life Drawing Class


While I studied at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now University of the Arts) in late ‘40s, many drawing and painting classes involved nude women models. When first enrolled in 1946, I had just returned from World War II Navy service. It involved a year of sea duty and a year at forward Navy bases during the Philippine Island campaign.

So, as a red-blooded 21-year-old freshman, it was a distinct pleasure to ogle see nude women for the one-hour sessions several days a week in life class. I drew them in charcoal, chalk, pastel and other media. One day I made the mistake of bragging to my cousin, also a recent Navy veteran, about my enjoyable art studies. He was my age and an accounting major at the nearby University of Pennsylvania.

Of course, the closest he ever got to seeing a nude at Penn was peeking into the women’s locker rooms at the pool. When I described the life classes, my cousin pleaded with me to let him sit in on one of them. I reluctantly agreed, and for the session, I equipped him with a large sketch pad, charcoal sticks and pastels.

Throughout the class, I nervously glared at the faux art student next to my easel to prevent any obvious ogling. He cooperated by furiously scratching the paper with his charcoal stick. Unfortunately, sometimes he pointed it completely off the paper and sketched several times in thin air. Luckily for us, it was a large class, and the instructor didn’t discover our crime. 

Another incident about my nude artwork happened nearly four years later at commencement time. One of my graduation presents was a letter from Uncle Sam recalling this Naval Reservist back to active duty for the Korean War. 

While I was away for two years, my mom burned all of my student nude drawings, including many I had displayed on the walls in my basement workshop. Her reason: She was too embarrassed to let the visiting gas company meter reader see the naked women.

Now, after 60 years, I can laugh about it. However, I must also wonder what would have happened to the art world if the moms of Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Pierre Auguste Renoir had burned their nude masterpieces. 

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