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Pradier, James [Jean-Jacques]

Pradier, James [Jean-Jacques]

Pradier, James [Jean-Jacques]

(b Geneva, 23 May 1790; d Bougival, 4 June 1852).

Swiss sculptor, painter and composer. Prompted by his early displays of artistic talent, Pradier's parents placed him in the workshop of a jeweller, where he learnt engraving on metal. He attended drawing classes in Geneva, before leaving for Paris in 1807. By 1811 he was registered at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and subsequently entered its sculpture competitions as a pupil of François-Frédéric, Baron Lemot. A more significant contribution to his artistic formation around this time was the guidance of the painter François Gérard. Pradier won the Prix de Rome in 1813 and was resident at the French Academy in Rome, from 1814 until 1819. On his return to France, he showed at the Salon of 1819 a group Centaur and Bacchante (untraced) and a reclining Bacchante (marble; Rouen, Mus. B.-A.). The latter, borrowing an erotically significant torsion from the Antique Callipygean Venus, opens the series of sensuous Classical female subjects that were to become Pradier's forte. In Psyche (marble, 1824; Paris, Louvre) new ingredients were added to Pradier's references to the Antique. The critic and theorist Toussaint-Bernard Emeric-David detected in it 'a sort of Florentine grace' and a reminiscence of the 16th-century sculptor Jean Goujon. The sophisticated posture and coiffure, and the contrast between flesh and elaborately involved and pleated drapery, are features that recur in most of Pradier's female subjects.

The government of the restored Bourbons (1815-30) conferred on Pradier a number of prestigious commissions, notably a marble monument to Jean, Duc de Berry, for the Cathedral of Versailles (1821-3), and a marble relief for the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (1828-31), Paris. As early as 1827 he was made a member of the Institut and Professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. This recognition did not secure him automatic preference in official commissions. His project for the pediment of the Madeleine (1828-9), for example, was turned down in favour of one by Henri Lemaire. At all stages Pradier was strenuous in his pursuit of state commissions. After 1834 his efforts in this direction were to be powerfully abetted by the journalism of Victor Hugo. Notoriously apolitical, Pradier found no difficulty in adapting himself to whatever regime happened to be in power, an adaptability which, by the 1848 Revolution, began to look cynical.

Approval of Pradier's art by the July Monarchy (1830-48) was shown after the Salon of 1831, when Louis-Philippe purchased his Three Graces (marble; Paris, Louvre). This group invited comparison with works on the same theme by Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen and was an unmistakable gesture of loyalty to the tenets of Neo-classicism at the start of the decade that witnessed the emergence of a Romantic style in sculpture. But Pradier, who has been seen as the 'Ingres of sculpture', was no doctrinaire. An area in which he showed particular sympathy with the aspirations of his more overtly Romantic contemporaries was the production of models for statuettes and for figures adaptable for ornamental use. The firms chiefly involved in diffusing his output in this line were the maison d'éditions Susse Frères and the founder Salvator Marchi. In his group Satyr and Bacchante (marble; Paris, Louvre), shown at the Salon of 1834, Pradier revived in monumental form the explicitly sexual subject-matter of the 18th century. Such erotic motifs frequently occur among Pradier's statuettes. Sometimes their subjects are mythological, as in the undulating Leda and the Swan (plaster; Geneva, Mus. A. & Hist.). In other works Pradier introduced a more novel type of voyeuristic genre, as in Woman with a Cat (plaster, c. 1840; Geneva, Mus. A. & Hist.) or Woman Putting on a Stocking (bronze, 1840; Paris, Mus. A. Déc.). The series of Pradier's life-size female statues culminates in the Nyssia (marble, 1848; Montpellier, Mus. Fabre) and in the seated Sappho (marble; Paris, Mus. d'Orsay; see fig.) exhibited at the Salon of 1852, the first illustrating a modern text, Théophile Gautier's Roi Candaule, the second bringing a note of 'modern' melancholy to the treatment of a subject already popularized by Pradier's Neo-classical forebears, the painters Antoine-Jean Gros and Anne-Louis Girodet.
Pradier played a major role in many of the ambitious decorative schemes of the July Monarchy, in particular at the Madeleine and the Palais Bourbon. For the tomb of Napoleon I at the Invalides he contributed the 12 severe Victories surrounding the sarcophagus (1843-52). For Louis-Philippe's historical galleries at Versailles he executed a number of statues and busts. However, his initially cordial relations with the Orléans family were soured by accusations of commercialism aimed at him by the painter Ary Scheffer. They may also have been adversely affected by Pradier's reputation as a philanderer, a myth that his correspondence, published in 1984, goes far to dispel. However, in the annals of Romanticism, Pradier the dandy and party-giver has tended to eclipse Pradier the artist.

Despite aspersions cast by critics on the correctness of Pradier's treatment of myth, he remained the leading classical sculptor of his day and exerted a strong influence in the 1840s and 1850s, when a reaction to the turbulent styles of Romanticism prevailed. The combination of the archaeological and the hedonistic characterizing the classical sculpture of the Second Empire (1851-1870) took its main direction from him.

Throughout his life, Pradier remained in close contact with his birthplace. In 1830 he obtained a commission from the town for a bronze statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Geneva, Ile Rousseau), a task previously offered to Canova. Pradier's monument was unveiled in 1835. The Musée d'Art et d'Histoire houses an extensive collection of works by Pradier, most of which were acquired after his death. These include oil sketches that indicate an ambition to paint grand mythological subjects, but, of the paintings that Pradier showed at the Salon, only a fragment of a Descent from the Cross (exh. 1838; Geneva, Mus. A. & Hist.) survives. A more intimate and colouristic aspect of Pradier's painting may be glimpsed in the Virgin and Child (1836; Besançon, Mus. B.-A. & Archéol.), supposed to be a portrait of his wife and baby son.

D. Siler, ed.: James Pradier: Correspondance, 2 vols (Geneva, 1984)

A. Etex: James Pradier: Etude sur sa vie et ses ouvrages (Paris, 1859)
Romantics to Rodin (exh. cat., ed. P. Fusco and H. Janson; Los Angeles, Co. Mus. A., 1980)
Statues de chair: Sculptures de James Pradier (exh. cat., ed. J. de Caso; Geneva, Mus. A. & Hist.; Paris, Luxembourg Pal.; 1985-6)
La Sculpture française au XIXe siècle (exh. cat., ed. A. Pingeot; Paris, Grand Pal., 1986)