THE HUMAN FORM -- At the Corcoran Gallery of Art through September 14.

The Corcoran Gallery (home of the Corcoran School) should take scholarly pride in its newest installation, "The Human Form: Contemporary American Figure Drawing and the Academic Tradition." The show of 75 works on paper is a vibrant, visual pastiche of assorted nude torsos (both male and female), bathers, soldiers, skeletons and the like.

There was a wealth of material for cutator Edward J. Nygren to choose from: Figure drawing was a key course in the traditional curriculum of 19th-century art academies, and while few schools (and fewer students) adhere to the old lesson plans today, the mastering of the human form is still held in high regard. Most of the drawings are from the Corcoran's collection; many have never been shown here before.

The exhibition presents a sampling of styles, periods and perspectives. One purely academic example of the old-school approach is Daniel P. Huntington's realistic rendering of a skeleton's posterior drawn with a pencil and chalk (1848). At a contrasting point on the spectrum is Manon Cleary's sultry self-portrait, a striking, detailed photo-realistic nude done in graphite (1979).

Other noteworthy works include littleknown examples of the major movements in 19th-and 20th-century art. The cubist view is documented by Max Weber's dramatic ink sketch of a female figure model (circa 1915). The impressionists are represented by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, who used pastel and paperbound for his soft-edged "Reclining Female Nude" (circa 1900).

Among several studies for larger works are John Singleton Copley's preliminary sketches for "The Siege of Bibraltar." Torso studies by John Singer Sargent and a roughed-out version of an 1890s "Gibson Girl" are alos displayed.

The most startling drawing is Mitchell Jamison's "Pax Americana," a brutally frank monoprint showing three dead bodies hanging from a tree (1970). On a gentler plane are five funny female nudes by the whimsical Jules Pascin (1928).