Head of an Old Man

Alphonse Legros, 1837 - 1911

Head of an Old Man

Alphonse Legros 1837 - 1911


This is a rapidly painted head study of an old man with white hair and a bushy white beard. His black coat is only sketched in, yet the outlines of the shoulder, lapels and seams are beautifully and economically captured. He tilts his head to his right, his eyes downcast and his face obscured by shadow. There is a neutral background, which appears to be a thin wash on the canvas. Alphonse Legros was a talented and meticulous draughtsman, etcher, painter and sculptor. He was born in Dijon in 1837 and may have trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts there. He worked for a while on decorative schemes for Lyon Cathedral and for a Parisian theatre company, before joining the studio of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1802-1897). In 1855 he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris and made his Salon debut in 1857 with a portrait of his father. He came to London in 1863, where he lived and worked until 1905, with intervals spent in a cottage at Brasted Chart in Kent (1899-1905); he then moved to Watford, where he died in 1911. He was naturalised as a British citizen in 1880. Much of his life in England was spent teaching and in 1876 he succeeded Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) as Professor at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. Teaching at the Slade School was from its earliest days based on drawing from life models, following the French academic tradition. Legros, an expert himself, was an enthusiastic advocate of this practice. The timed head study was a speciality of his. He insisted that accurate drawing was the only sure means of capturing the essence of a subject. A great admirer of classical art, Legros promoted the traditional study trip to Italy as a key element of artistic training. This painting was presented by the artist to the Royal Manchester Institution (which became Manchester Art Gallery), in conjunction with a masterclass that he held there for students of the Manchester School of Art on 14th September 1879.

Object Name

Head of an Old Man

Creators Name

Alphonse Legros

Date Created



unframed: 61.3cm x 50.7cm
framed: 82.8cm x 73cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint


Gift of Guy Knowles


© Manchester Art Gallery

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