Main>> Artist Biographies

Coustou, Francois

Coustou, Francois



French family of sculptors. Francois Coustou (d 1690), a wood-carver and brother-in-law of the sculptor Antoine Coyzevox, had two sons who became sculptors, (1) Nicolas Coustou and (2) Guillaume Coustou (i), and a daughter, Eleonore, whose son was the sculptor Claude Francin. The brothers moved from their native Lyon to train with Coyzevox in Paris, where they spent the greater part of their careers. They worked on royal projects, notably at the chateau of Marly, Yvelines, which was the original location of Guillaume Coustou's celebrated Marly Horses now in the Louvre, Paris. Of Guillaume's sons, Charles Pierre Coustou (1721--97) was active as an architect, and (3) Guillaume Coustou (ii) became a sculptor, like his uncle and father spending his early career in Rome and returning to work in France but also contributing to the statuary for Sanssouci, Potsdam.
(1) Nicolas Coustou
(2) Guillaume Coustou (i)
(3) Guillaume Coustou (ii)


(1) Nicolas Coustou
[l'aîné] (b Lyon, bapt 9 Jan 1658; d Paris, 1 May 1733). In 1676 he went to Paris to study under his maternal uncle, Antoine Coyzevox. In 1682 he won the Prix de Rome, and from 1683 until 1686 he was at the Académie de France in Rome, where among other works he made a copy with variations (marble; Versailles, Château, Parterre de Latone) of the antique statue of Commodus as Hercules. On his return to France he was approved (agréé) by the Académie Royale in 1687 and received (reçu) as a full member in 1693 on presentation of an allegorical relief representing the Recovery of Louis XIV from Illness (marble; Paris, Louvre). He had a very successful academic career there, being appointed a professor in 1702, rector in 1720 and chancellor in the year of his death. In 1690 he married Suzanne Houasse, daughter of the painter René-Antoine Houasse.
From 1691 Nicolas Coustou was one of the busiest sculptors employed by the Bâtiments du Roi, carving numerous stone reliefs for the interior of the Dôme des Invalides, Paris (1691-9; in situ), and for the façade a colossal marble statue of St Louis (1701-6; in situ), after a model by François Girardon, while for Versailles he produced a large marble statue of Julius Caesar (1696-1713; installed Paris, Jard. Tuileries, 1722; now Paris, Louvre). At this time he also worked on private commissions, including the monument to the Maréchal de Créqui in the church of the Jacobins, Paris (marble and bronze, in collaboration with Coyzevox, 1695; destr.), and statues of St Joseph and St Augustine for the Order of the Visitandines at Moulins, Allier (stone, 1696; Moulins, Lycée Banville, chapel). However, most of his energies were devoted to the decoration for Louis XIV of the park at the château of Marly, Yvelines, where from 1697 he was responsible for numerous vases, sphinxes, groups of children and tritons (destr. or dispersed). On a more ambitious scale he also executed for Marly the great group of The Seine and the Marne (marble, 1699-1712; now Paris, Jard. Tuileries; see fig.) and the dynamic Baroque groups Meleager Slaying a Stag and Meleager Slaying a Boar (marble, 1703-6; in situ), as well as the seated figures of Adonis, the Nymph with a Quiver and the Nymph with a Dove (all marble, 1708-10; Paris, Louvre). The works for Marly all have the bucolic charm that epitomizes the informal spirit of the park.
In 1709-10 Nicolas contributed minor works to the decoration of the chapel of the château of Versailles, but in his affecting Pietà, part of the ensemble of the Vow of Louis XIII for the choir of Notre-Dame, Paris (marble, 1712-28; in situ), he created one of the masterpieces of French 18th-century religious sculpture. Equally masterful in another vein is his bronze reclining female nude representing the river Saône, designed as one of a pair with his brother's Rhône to adorn the pedestal of Martin Desjardins's equestrian statue of Louis XIV (1714-20; destr.) in the Place Bellecour, Lyon. A decline in quality may be detected in such later works as the large allegorical relief of the Crossing of the Rhine (marble, 1715-18; Versailles, Château) and the statue of Louis XV as Jupiter (marble, 1726-31; Paris, Louvre). It may be argued, however, that the former was completed by his brother and the latter was designed as a pendant to Guillaume's Marie Leczinska as Juno. Nonetheless, the statue of the Maréchal de Villars in Roman military costume (marble, 1719-33; Aix-en-Provence, Hôtel de Ville), which was also finished by his brother, exemplifies the magisterial quality of his work.
Nicolas Coustou was the most gifted exponent of the developing ROCOCO style in sculpture, creating works in which animated grace predominates but never at the expense of structure and harmony. He was aided in his achievement by his remarkable facility in the working of marble. Through such pupils as Claude Lamoureux ( fl 1686-99), who worked in Denmark, Jacques Bousseau, who was active at the Spanish court, and Louis-François Roubiliac, who worked in England, he exerted considerable influence on the evolution of European sculpture.
2) Guillaume Coustou (i)
[le jeune] (b Lyon, 29 Nov 1677; d Paris, 22 Feb 1746). Brother of (1) Nicolas Coustou. He trained with his brother and their maternal uncle Antoine Coyzevox in Paris. In 1697 he won the Prix de Rome, but he was not awarded a place at the Académie de France in Rome. Instead he went to Italy at his own expense and worked in Rome for Pierre Legros (ii), by whose lively Baroque style he was influenced. Around 1700 he returned to France to assist Coyzevox with the execution of his two monumental equestrian statues of Fame and Mercury, intended for the ornamental horse pond in the park at the château of Marly, Yvelines (marble, 1701-2; Paris, Louvre). In 1704 he was received (reçu) as a member of the Académie Royale, presenting a statuette of Hercules on the Funeral Pyre (marble; Paris, Louvre), a work that reveals his virtuosity as a marble-carver and his predisposition for dynamic composition. He had a successful career within the Académie: in 1706 he was appointed assistant professor, in 1715 professor, in 1726 assistant rector and in 1733 rector.
Like both his uncle and his brother, Guillaume worked mainly for the crown, receiving numerous commissions from the Bâtiments du Roi. His first important work was the decorative bronze sculpture executed in collaboration with Corneille van Clève for the baldacchino of the high altar of the Dôme des Invalides, Paris (1702; destr. 1790s). From 1707 he made important contributions to the sculptural decoration of the chapel of the château of Versailles, including lead and stone statues for the exterior and stone bas-reliefs for the interior. With van Clève he appears to have been responsible for the introduction in the sphere of religious sculpture of the new, elegant and animated sculptural style that was to supersede the classicism prevailing at Versailles. For the more light-hearted context of the park at Marly, he carved running statues of Hippomenes and Daphne (marble, 1711-14; Paris, Louvre) as companions to the statue of Atalanta by Pierre Le Pautre and that of Apollo by Nicolas Coustou. With Coyzevox and Nicolas, he worked on the last great official project of Louis XIV's reign, carving the magnificent kneeling statue of Louis XIII (1712-15) for the ensemble of the Vow of Louis XIII in the choir of Notre-Dame, Paris. He collaborated again with his brother when he modelled the powerful reclining river god representing the Rhône, while Nicolas worked on Saône, for the pedestal of Desjardins's equestrian statue of Louis XIV (bronze, 1714-20; destr.) in the Place Bellecour, Lyon.
Guillaume Coustou continued to be in demand in the years after Louis XIV's death, when he executed a number of important private commissions, including funerary monuments such as those to Maréchal d'Estrées and his Wife (marble, c. 1720; Versailles, Château) and Cardinal Dubois (marble, 1725; fragment, Paris, St Roch). He carved the decorations for the bridges at Blois, Loir-et-Cher (1724; in situ), Juvisy-sur-Orge, Essonne (1728; dismantled 1972), and Compiègne, Oise (1730; destr. World War I). He also decorated the façade of the Palais-Bourbon (c. 1724-30; destr.) and produced portrait busts, such as those of the Marquis d'Argenson (marble, c. 1721; Versailles, Château) and Samuel Bernard (marble, 1727; New York, Met.), as well as religious sculpture, including a statue of St Francis Xavier (marble, 1722; Paris, St Germain-des-Prés). In 1725 the Duc d'Antin, Surintendant des Bâtiments du Roi, commissioned the elegant and light-hearted statue of Marie Leczinska as Juno (marble, 1726-31; Paris, Louvre) as a pendant to Nicolas Coustou's Louis XV as Jupiter. Guillaume's ornamental carving for the façade of the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris-for example his two monumental groups of Mars and Minerva (1733-4)-have all the grandeur and authority of the art of Louis XIV's reign. By the 1730s he was the most prominent sculptor in royal employment, and this status was acknowledged when he was given the commission for what have become his most famous works, two magnificent monumental horses restrained by grooms, intended to replace the less energetic horses by Coyzevox at the horse pond at Marly. The Marly Horses (marble, 1739-45; ex-Place de la Concorde, Paris; now Paris, Louvre; see fig.) are among the sculptural masterpieces of the 18th century and have been widely reproduced, in a variety of materials. Among Guillaume's pupils were his son (3) Guillaume (ii), his nephew Claude Francin and Edme Bouchardon.

(3) Guillaume Coustou (ii)
(b Paris, 19 March 1716; d Paris, 13 July 1777).
Son of (2) Guillaume Coustou (i). Having studied with his father, he won the Prix de Rome in 1735 and was at the Académie de France in Rome in 1736-40. In 1742 he was received (reçu) as a member of the Académie Royale, presenting a seated statue of Vulcan (marble; Paris, Louvre), and he went on to pursue a successful official career. His eclectic style mirrored the evolution of French sculpture in the mid-18th century, ranging from the Baroque of the Apotheosis of St Francis Xavier (marble, c. 1743; Bordeaux, St Paul) to the cold classicism of his statue of Apollo commissioned by Mme de Pompadour for the park at the château of Bellevue, Hautes-de-Seine (marble, 1753; Versailles, Château). He worked fluently but without great originality in various sculptural forms, producing portrait busts and religious and mythological works. Among his most important sculptures are the statues of Mars and Venus, commissioned by Frederick II of Prussia (marble, 1769; Potsdam, Schloss Sanssouci); the pedimental reliefs executed in conjunction with Michel-Ange Slodtz for Ange-Jacques Gabriel's buildings (from 1753) on the Place de la Concorde (originally Place Louis XV), Paris; and the monument in Sens Cathedral to the Dauphin (son of Louis XV), Louis de Bourbon and his Wife (marble and bronze, 1766-77). Although its allegorical programme, devised by Charles-Nicolas Cochin II, has been criticized as over-complex, this free-standing tomb, an early masterpiece of sentimental Neo-classicism, is one of the most important pieces of funerary sculpture of the 18th century in France.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Mariette; Lami; Souchal; Thieme-Becker
C. de Contamine: Eloge historique de M. Coustou l'aîné (Paris, 1737)
A.-N. Dézallier d'Argenville: Vies des fameux architectes et sculpteurs (1788), p. 276
L. Gougenot: Vie de Coustou le jeune (Paris, 1903)
M. Audin and E. Vial: Dictionnaire des artistes lyonnais (Paris, 1918)
F. Souchal: Les Frères Coustou (Paris, 1980)
--: 'Guillaume II Coustou (1716-1777): Notes biographiques sur un sculpteur de Louis XV', Thèmes et figures du siècle des lumières, ed. R. Trousson (Geneva, 1980), pp. 259-70
--: 'L'Apothéose de Saint François Xavier de Guillaume II Coustou', Gaz. B.-A., n. s. 6, cxi (1988), pp. 43-8


HomeHome