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FRENCH SCULPTURE : 1814-1900

FRENCH SCULPTURE : 1814-1900



FRENCH SCULPTURE : 1814 - 1900

Styles Artists and Influences
1814-1900
(1) Influence of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
(2) Public statuary and the influence of government.
(3) Romanticism, academicism and 'national' sculpture.
(4) Challenges to Beaux-Arts classicism.

(1) Influence of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
For the greater part of the 19th century French sculpture was dominated by the training of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Although histories of painting in the period have largely dismissed the Ecole as retardatory and nugatory, for sculpture-always more dependent on 'official' support-it was crucial. Its hegemony was challenged by the more artisanal courses offered by the Ecole Gratuite de Dessin (or 'Petite Ecole'), especially after 1831 when Jean-Hilaire Belloc (1786-1866) took over the direction of this lesser rival, but up to the 1880s the history of French sculpture is preponderantly the history of the winners of the Prix de Rome: David d'Angers, François Rude, James Pradier, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Henri Chapu, Alexandre Falguière, Louis-Ernest Barrias and Antonin Mercié.
By mid-century it was increasingly felt that the series of concours (competitions) punctuating the curriculum and culminating in the Prix de Rome were an outdated and inaccurate yardstick for gauging student potential. An attempt to reform the system in 1863 largely misfired, the reformers only partially succeeding in their aim of breaking the hold of the Institut de France over the Ecole, since most of the professors were members of both bodies. They did, however, bring to an end the system of apprenticeship, in which students had learnt their craft in the private studios of their chosen masters, and sculpture studios were established within the Ecole itself. An attempt to modify the concours and the regulations affecting envois (works sent back from Rome by prizewinners) foundered against strong internal opposition. The rigours of the training in Paris, based on study from life and from antique models, were somewhat lessened when the successful student reached Rome; there is conspicuously greater variety in sculptors' Roman envois than in their Prix de Rome entries, the latter executed under duress within the precincts of the Ecole. These envois include some of the most striking works of the 19th century-Pradier's Bacchante (marble, exh. Salon 1819; Rouen, Mus. B.-A.), Guillaume's Anacreon (marble, exh. Salon 1852; Paris, Mus. d'Orsay), Carpeaux's Ugolino and his Children (version, bronze, 1857-63; Paris, Jard. Tuileries), Chapu's Christ with Angels (plaster, 1857; Le Mée-sur-Seine, Mus. Chapu), Mercié's bronze group Gloria victis (plaster version, exh. Salon 1874; Paris, Petit Pal.); although some of them met with doctrinaire strictures from members of the Institut or from the professors on the grounds either that their subjects were neither classical nor biblical or that their style was too personal, such departures were a common occurrence and were in most cases accepted as indications of the qualities expected of laureates. In the Ecole itself the range of source material was widened, particularly from the 1840s, to include a generous selection of casts of Quattrocento, High Renaissance and post-Renaissance works. Casts of Greek works up to the Early Classical period were also acquired. Concessions were thus made to eclecticism but none to the contemporary world. Modern subject-matter was formally proscribed for student envois in 1872, and to this has been ascribed the growing interest among Ecole-trained sculptors in allegory as a vehicle-however indirect-for commentary on modern life and events.
Government patronage, whether through a ministry, the Court or municipal or regional bodies, provided the most dependable source of employment for sculptors. The history of sculpture in this period is closely linked with changing political regimes and the projects that they initiated: the instability and transience of these regimes imposed on sculptors the necessity of adapting to new conditions in order to survive, a situation that brought into focus the question of the artist's social and political commitment. In the course of the century two sculptors in particular stood out for their refusal to compromise: David D'Angers, during the July Monarchy (1830-48) and in the early years of the Second Empire (1852-70); and
Jules Dalou, after the Commune of 1871. In both cases fidelity to Republican ideals earned them periods of exile.

(2) Public statuary and the influence of government.
Training in sculpture at the Ecole did not accord in detail with the requirements of public statuary. Intended to inculcate elevated precepts and aesthetic ideals, it provided in only a general sense a suitable rhetorical language for the polemical or propagandist aims of the State, which in practice often called for an ability to convey specific political messages, through portraits, scenes of recent history or allegory. Overt political propaganda is most evident in works produced between 1815 and 1848. The government of the restored Bourbons revived projects initiated under the ancien régime and embarked on a series of monuments expressing national expiation for regicide and the Reign of Terror. Jean-Pierre Cortot and François-Joseph Bosio returned to pre-Revolutionary types of allegory and apotheosis in the sculpture of the Chapelle Expiatoire in Paris (e.g. Cortot's Marie-Antoinette Succoured by Religion, marble, c. 1825) and in the commissions of Charles X's government for statues of Louis XVI (begun 1827; Paris, Place de la Concorde) by Cortot and of Louis XVIII (1826; Paris, Pal. Bourbon) by Bosio.
Following the Revolution of 1830 the new government of Louis-Philippe commandeered and adapted to its own ends schemes proposed in the previous decade, notably the decoration of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Madeleine, both in Paris, and the Porte d'Aix in Marseille. The government also returned Ste Geneviève, Paris, to the secular function of the Panthéon, which it had enjoyed between 1791 and 1821, with a new pediment (1830-37) commissioned from David d'Angers; undertook the sculptural embellishment of the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile; and instituted a programme of polemical decorations at the Palais Bourbon. Considered overall, this group of schemes was impressively orchestrated; it suppressed all that was anti-Revolutionary in the Restoration projects, acknowledging the existence of Napoleon as Emperor, while extolling the military prowess of Bonaparte as General, promoting a State-sanctioned Catholic morality (hardly recognized as such by Catholic critics), reassimilating Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and a selected group of Revolutionary figures among the great men of the nation, and representing in staid allegories the moderate principles of constitutional monarchy.

(3) Romanticism, academicism and 'national' sculpture.
The climate of liberalism in the Salons of the early 1830s permitted younger sculptors, some of them affiliated with the Romantic tendency, to come before the public. Prix-de-Rome winner, François Rude, created a precedent for moderate emancipation from classical canons in the treatment of the nude, exhibiting relaxed Neapolitan genre subjects (see fig. 39). Antoine-Louis Barye and Christophe Fratin (1800/02-64) launched what was to become another vogue, Animalier Sculpture. Other forms of local colour-literary, geographical and historical-along with a colouristic handling of bronze emerged in the works of the Romantic sculptors Antonin-Marie Moine, Auguste Préault, Etienne-Hippolyte Maindron, Théodore Gechter, Jean-Bernard Du Seigneur (1808-66) and Jean-Jacques Feuchère. When Salon juries from 1836 began to suppress the more interesting work of this loose-knit school, some of its followers found alternative outlets in the expanding market for statuettes and decorative domestic sculptural ornament. Another alluring feature of the statuette trade was its accommodation of fashion and topicality, in the caricatures of Jean-Pierre Dantan, for example, and in delicate portrayals of stage personalities by Jean-Auguste Barre and others. Neither was the classical repertory neglected in this type of sculpture, the largest contribution coming from James Pradier, whose mythological themes were interspersed with modern erotic genre subjects.
Remaining aloof from such commercial endeavours, David d'Angers, Antoine Etex and Rude maintained an individualist concept of a 'national' sculpture that led them finally into opposition with the July Monarchy. David d'Angers increasingly turned his attention to the task of honouring great men in commemorative statues, tombs, busts and portrait medallions. The commissioning of such statues in France dated back to the years just prior to the Revolution. The restored Bourbon monarchy gave the activity a wider, national, base by erecting statues in the subjects' places of birth. David d'Angers's achievement was in bringing his personal initiative to bear in the choice of subject and location, stimulating local interest and sponsorship but sometimes giving his own labours free of charge.
The last major monument erected under the July Monarchy, the tomb of Napoleon I in the church of the Invalides, Paris, was characterized by an extreme aesthetic conservatism. The sculptors involved were Pradier (marble Victories, 1843-52), Duret (bronze allegories flanking door to the tomb, c. 1843) and Pierre-Charles Simart (marble allegorical reliefs and marble and bronze portrait statue, 1846-52). Such conservatism, which paradoxically the short-lived Second Republic (1848-52) did nothing to undermine, was inherited by the Second Empire (1852-70). The resurgence of academicism was accompanied by a comparative diffidence on the part of Napoleon III's government about political statements interpreted in monumental form. A lack of ideological content was compensated for by the sheer quantity of State commissions that were dedicated mainly to enlivening the surfaces of focal metropolitan buildings. 335 sculptors were employed between 1852 and 1857 on the restoration and extension of the Musée du Louvre, Paris; 131 sculptors worked from 1860 to 1875 on the Paris Opéra. Images of Napoleon III and of his imperial forebears appeared in the Louvre programme, but particular statements were swamped by an abundance of abstracted personifications and portraits of worthies. At the end of the 1860s the floridity of Charles Garnier's architectural conception of the new Opéra found in Carpeaux's allegorical group representing Dance (stone, 1866-9; in situ; a true sculptural counterpart, at least in the judgement of futurity: the immediate response from both the architect and the public was shock at what they deemed its excess and a demand for its removal.
During the July Monarchy the family of Louis-Philippe, notably Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, had played its part, through personal patronage, in promoting the 'minor' Romantic genres in sculpture. Similarly, in the Second Empire certain sculptors received Court approval, which helped them to make their mark in both the private and the public domains. The florid styles of Carpeaux and ALBERT-ERNEST CARRIER-BELLEUSE were as much embedded in the tradition of decorative sculpture as in the traditions of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It was the support that both these sculptors received from the imperial household that in the later years of the Empire established their styles as a viable alternative to academic orthodoxy. Of the two, only Carpeaux succeeded in forging, from an eclectic grounding, a truly personal style that was excitable and impressionistic and that transcended its sources; Carrier-Belleuse, inventive enough in decorative composition, was usually content with a pastiche of the Renaissance or Rococo periods.
In certain cases, sculptors during the Second Empire were compelled to subordinate personal originality to the demands of archaeological reconstruction, since it was in the 1850s that Adolphe-Napoléon Didron and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc introduced a more historically enlightened note into the restoration of such ancient monuments as Notre-Dame in Paris and the château of Pierrefonds in Oise. The erudite medievalism of Viollet-le-Duc's chief sculptural assistant, Geoffrey Dechaume (1816-92), is but one of the historicisms practised in this eclectic period.
In creating Ugolino and his Children, Carpeaux revitalized the sculpted nude, sharing this ambition with a group of young sculptors who took their inspiration from Michelangelo and the 15th century and subsequently became known as 'Les Florentins'. Two members of the group, Alexandre Falguière and Paul Dubois (i), studied in Rome in the early 1860s and were preoccupied with the youthful male figure and with anatomical characterization as opposed to the normative idealization encouraged by the Ecole. After 1870 ANTONIN MERCIÉ and Louis-Ernest Barrias reinforced their early endeavours, and it was their emphasis on modelling and on emotive effects that informed much of the sculpture exhibited in the annual Salons between the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the beginning of the 20th century. Rodin, in his early works, was clearly indebted to them, his Age of Bronze (version, bronze, 1875-7; London, V&A; and St John the Baptist (version, bronze, 1878; Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyp.) both finding their closest counterparts in the pieces exhibited by Mercié in the Salons of the early 1870s.
During the Third Republic (1871-1946), up to World War I, there was a tremendous increase in the number of commemorative statues being produced in Paris and the provinces, instigated mainly by the initiatives of regional and municipal governments, as for example the two monuments to the Republic commissioned by the City of Paris from Léopold Morice (1846-1920) (1883; Paris, Place de la République) and Jules Dalou (bronze, 1879-99; Paris, Place de la Nation;. Societies also commissioned works from sculptors, as for example the Société des Gens de Lettres, which commissioned Rodin's monument to the writer Honoré de Balzac (plaster, exh. Salon 1898; rejected by the Société; bronze version erected 1939, Paris, intersection Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse). In the case of war memorials or monuments of national interest a local contribution or a fund raised from public subscription might be augmented by funds from the central government. From this period the biggest concentration of sculpture within the City of Paris was a municipal project, the Hôtel de Ville, requiring the collaboration of 230 sculptors. The building was embellished with many portraits of famous men and women of Paris, the sculptures combining costume pageantry with a new emphasis on realism.
In outdoor commemorative monuments of the last two decades of the 19th century, such as Dalou's monument to Delacroix (bronze, unveiled 1890) in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, or Barrias's monument to Victor Hugo (inaugurated 1902; mostly destr. 1942) in the Place Victor-Hugo, Paris, elaborateness of composition and dramatic silhouette were the dominant trends. The variety of solutions proposed was a consequence of the increase in the numbers of such statues, as well as of the desire to educate through imagery. Here, as in the architecture of the same period, a total accommodation with the vocabulary of the Baroque was made. For David d'Angers, responsible for so many commemorations earlier in the century, the simple ingredients of a full-length portrait statue with subordinated attributes, an inscription and, optionally, reliefs on the pedestal illustrating incidents from the life of the subject, had been sufficient. To this type sculptors of the Third Republic added a wealth of allegory and of symbolic and anecdotal detail, such as had been used on tombs in the 17th and 18th centuries.

(4) Challenges to Beaux-Arts classicism.
The sculptural mood of the 1870s was elegiac, a response to France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). After the establishment of the Third Republic, public statuary in particular entered an ebullient and ingratiating phase. Rodin's début as an exhibitor at the Salon coincided with the elegiac phase, and against a background of what he saw as the charlatanism and false poetry of most Salon exhibits he pursued his own introverted researches in preparation for the unfinished Gates of Hell (bronze, 1880-1917; Paris, Mus. Rodin;. Some of his projects for commemorative monuments take the allegorizing mode of his contemporaries to its furthest limit; others, like that to Balzac, incorporated symbolism in a single figure. However, he always made the monumental rhetoric his own, endowing it with a personal feeling above all for the language of the body itself, developed through his immense output of drawings and experimental models. At the same time he aknowledged his debt both to Michelangelo and to medieval sculptors, while retaining links with the more immediate traditions of the 19th century. This occurred at a time when, simultaneously with the erection of statues to great writers of the Romantic movement, a reassessment was underway of the achievement of earlier Romantic sculptors, some of whom were still active in Rodin's youth.
In the 1880s, within the Ecole, the innate conservatism of the more official sculptors made them ideal bulwarks of the establishment. In 1864 the post of Directeur of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts had been taken up by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste-Claude Eugène Guillaume; in 1878 it had passed to another sculptor, Paul Dubois (i), who retained it until his death in 1905, after which long-overdue reforms were finally introduced. However, in practice, the ascendancy of Rodin, who had been refused admission to the Ecole, and of Dalou, who had been a disappointed runner-up in the Prix de Rome, was an indication of the loosening of the grip of the Ecole on sculpture at large. Furthermore, at the Impressionist exhibition of 1881 EDGAR DEGAS showed his startlingly veristic wax sculpture of the Young Dancer of Fourteen (version, bronze, Rotterdam, Mus. Boymans-van Beuningen), a work closer in many ways to both contemporary and historic Italian sculpture than to anything then being produced in France. It took a critic of the originality of Joris-Karl Huysmans to appreciate the challenge being posed to the system. It was the first occasion in which an innovative painter-sculptor had cared to show his sculpture to the public at large; the vigorous modelling power of Théodore Gericault and Honoré Daumier remained a secret known only to frequenters of studios. After the Young Dancer of Fourteen, Degas, like them, chose not to exhibit his sculpture and turned exclusively to small-scale and experimental work in three dimensions.
A problem of the period that was brought into focus by Rodin in his marbles was that of authenticity. The deputing of the final execution of carved works to assistants or professional praticiens had been practised before the 19th century, but as the technical aspects of sculpture became more developed and the entrepreneurial systems facilitating the division of tasks became more sophisticated, a reaction set in, exacerbated by the virtuosic appearance at the Salons of a number of marble showpieces depicting mythological subjects by such sculptors as Denys Puech and Laurent-Honoré Marqueste (1848-1920). The reaction had already been registered by the Ecole, where classes in stone- and marble-carving were instituted in 1883, but it was in the exhibitions of sculpture at the Salons of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts during the 1890s that a more fundamental revision made its appearance, such Symbolist sculptors as Jean Dampt, Jean Carriès, Jules Desbois and Pierre Roche preferring the dual identities of poet and craftsman to the grandiose conception of statuaire and finding alternatives to marble in wood, pewter, ceramic, wax, gypsum, ivory, lead and combinations of these. Such experiments with mixed-media and polychromed sculpture were not practised exclusively by those who favoured an Arts and Crafts approach. Polychromy had been tentatively espoused by Neo-classical sculptors earlier in the century, after the publication in Paris in 1815 of Antoine Quatremère de Quincy's account of the ancient Greeks' use of colour in sculpture, Le Jupiter olympien, and experimentation of this kind had increased around mid-century. Sometimes the motive was archaeological, as with Simart's chryselephantine reconstruction of the Athena Parthenos (1846) for the château of Dampierre, Marne (in situ); sometimes it was to contribute to a work's voluptuous charge, as in Auguste Clésinger's Woman Bitten by a Snake (exh. Salon 1847; Paris, Mus. d'Orsay), in which the white marble of the subject's body was originally set off against a bed of tinted flowers. A more consistent commitment to coloured sculpture, exploiting gorgeous combinations of bronze, marbles and semi-precious stones, had been demonstrated from the mid-1850s by Charles Cordier in his busts of ethnic types, and in the final decade of the 19th century this ostentatious and materialistic polychromy was practised by Jean-Léon Gérôme and Barrias. Degas and Gauguin, the painter-sculptors connected with the Impressionist movement, both used polychromy in their three-dimensional work; but although Gauguin's use of wood and ceramic and of colour to enhance the Symbolist import of his sculpture validates a comparison with the work of more conventional Symbolist sculptors, the hostile reception to such works as the polychromed wood reliefs Soyez mystérieuses (Paris, Mus. d'Orsay) and Soyez amoureuses et heureuses (Boston, MA, Mus. F.A.), which he showed in 1891 at the exhibition of Les XX in Brussels, and the rejection in 1895 of his stoneware statuette Oviri (1894; Paris, Mus. d'Orsay; from the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, showed how far beyond the boundaries of Europe his primitivism had taken him, as opposed to the restricted European travels of other fellow sculptors.
In the 1890s two other, quite opposed, challenges to the closed world of Beaux-Arts classicism emerged. On the one hand, social-realistic representations in sculpture no longer had aesthetic and political inhibitions, as evidenced in the work of Jules Dalou, who led the way in the 1890s with his projects for a Monument to Workers (unexecuted; preparatory clay sketches, Paris, Petit. Pal.); on the other there was a fundamentalist classicism proposed by ARITIDE MAILLOL. It was the latter-the line of least resistance, in a sense-that was to prove the more enduring, providing a link between the long tradition of classically inspired sculpture in France and the formalist researches of the 20th century.
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