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: Nineteenth-Century French Sculpture: Jean-Pierre Dantan and François Rude


Mario Praz



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
. . . of all the arts, the one which lends itself least to Romantic expression is certainly sculpture. It seems to have reached its definitive form in Antiquity. Every sculptor is of necessity classical; at bottom he is always an adherent of the Religion of Olympus.1Thus Théophile Gautier, eminent 19th-century art critic, analyzed sculpture's inability to capture and convey the rebellious and impassioned temperament of Romantic painting in the first half of the 19th century. The attitudes and assertions of Neo-Classicism (whose most viable art form was sculpture) so permeated the artistic thoughts of academies and independent sculptors alike that it continued to be a governing stylistic force throughout the century. The expressionistic, Neo-Baroque technique developed during the second decade of the century by such leading Romantic painters as Géricault and Delacroix would not be attempted in sculpture until the thirties. Even at that time, when sculpture did adopt romantic subject matter, convention, and gesture, and espoused an ever-growing realism, its dependence on Neo-Classicism could still be read in its well-proportioned, ideally natural, smoothly carved features. Only in the small statuettes by Honoré Daumier, whose sculpture was little known or appreciated at that time, or in preparatory sketches or models (usually in terracotta or wax) could one witness free, untempered manipulation of mass and experimentation with form that anticipated the eventual dissolution of Neo-Classical canons.The position in which sculpture found itself at mid-century is well illustrated by two recently acquired sculptures by Jean-Pierre Dantan the younger and François Rude. Faced with the dilemma of becoming irrelevant as an art form, sculpture in the 1840s and ‘50s rose to the demands for greater expression and realism put to it by Romantic painting and the public. Three solutions offered themselves: the modernization of Neo-Classical sculpture by a greater reliance on realism, the transformation of Neo-Classical sculpture by the adaptation of expressive Baroque devices, or a complete denial of Neo-Classical methods altogether.The portrait of Prince Anatole Demidoff,2 sculpted by Jean-Pierre Dantan the younger in 1839, presents the urbane, cultivated gentleman as if seated in his study, surrounded by a typical 19th-century disarray of books and other accouterments of learning. The sitter's relaxed pose and informal attire (he sits in dressing gown) belie the formal characteristics of the sculpture, which purposefully rely on Neo-Classical elements to metamorphose the Prince's meditation on the pamphlet he reads to the state of immortal reflection. While physically accurate in all details, in some cases to the point of duplication on a reduced scale (such as the period chair), the appearance of reality has been refined by Dantan's insistent concentration on graceful line and contour. Indeed, any exact realistic depiction has been denied by the artist's consistently soft manner of carving which in smoothing all surfaces allows few textural distinctions. The alarming absence of pupils in a face otherwise construed as a convincing life portrait confirms the suspicion that all elements in the piece—style, pose, selection of objects—have been calculated to create a monument, albeit private and small scale, to the literary and scholastic achievements of the sitter. With this realization, one now understands why the Demidoff coat-of-arms, whose cartouche extends over the pedestal to the base of the sculpture above, figures so prominently in the composition.The portrait, in fact, commemorates Anatole's expedition to Russia made two years earlier in 1837. Under the patronage of Tsar Nicolas I, Prince Anatole, member of the famous Russian-Florentine family, toured southern Russia with the object of studying its mineral resources, wildlife, and vegetation. The result of the voyage, and subsequent reason for glorifying the Prince in this portrait, was the publication of Demidoff's Voyages dans la Russie Méridionale et la Crimée in 1840.3 Knowing this, the glove, metalwork, manuscripts, and books strewn about the base of Demidoff's chair become significant. The book titles—Voyages en Crimée, Valachie et Moldavie, Siberie, and that of the pamphlet, Russie Méridionale et Crimée—become specific references to his scholarship rather than just general references to his maternal country.The portrait of Prince Demidoff is an illustrative example of Dantan's “serious” work. A French artist, Dantan studied and worked in Rome and Florence during his youth, at which time he sculpted portraits in the manner of Prince Demidoff for his livelihood. Upon his return to Paris, he turned to caricature, fashioning satirical statuettes and portraits in the loose, expressionistic manner of Daumier. Although he continued to sculpt formal portraits, he applied most of his energies to the creation of his highly amusing caricatures, the appearance of which established his reputation.4Dantan's approach to sculpture's unfortunate situation was to simply update Neo-Classical form with contemporary realism, as in Prince Demidoff, or to break away completely, as in the caricatures. Another solution, and one which proved to be more to the taste of period, was exemplified in the work of François Rude.Rude's Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter,5 though presented under the guise of classical art, can be considered classical in subject matter alone; its composition, pose, and expression bear only a generic relationship to classical sculpture. The thrust of Hebe's arm above her head (anathema to a Neo-Classical sculptor who strove to maintain pure, unbroken contours), the twist of the eagle's head and associated with baroque composition. The slick surface finish, the varying textures, the sentimental facial features are much too sensually rendered to claim to be classical. Furthermore, the active involvement witnessed between Hebe and the eagle, as she coquettishly tantalizes him with the cup of ambrosia, differs from the isolated, static poses of Neo-Classical sculpture.Although considered an important Romantic sculptor, Rude drew his inspiration almost exclusively from the Antique. He was trained as a classicist, and continually depicted classical subjects. He felt his mission in life was to interpret antiquity in “modern” terms, the first visual definition of which was his sculptural decoration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (1833-1836). Commonly referred to as the “Marseillaise,” the depiction of the 1792 volunteers rallying under Liberty clearly acknowledges classical prototypes and features an equally noble style; yet the impetuous ardor of the revolutionaries is conveyed by far-flung gesture and a dramatic forward-rushing movement which carries the action beyond the limits of the stone—characteristics hardly classical. The same transformation of classical ideals by the use of highly expressive devices from baroque art is echoed in Hebe.Hebe is one of the few bronzes executed by Rude.6 It is a reduced version of the marble group in the Dijon Museum7 which, along with l' Amour Dominateur, was his last work. In 1846, the City of Dijon, realizing the importance of their native son, commissioned Rude to execute a subject of his own choosing. Rude's hectic schedule prevented him from turning to this project until 1850, at which time, and again in 1852, models appeared.8 The marble group, which remained unfinished at Rude's death in 1855, was later shown in the Salon of 1857. The bronze most probably was cast between 1853 and 1855.9Comparing the Institute's bronze with the Dijon marble reveals few differences in the figure groups aside from the reduced scale and the more smiling visage of the bronze. One's curiosity is aroused to find the white marble base of the Dijon group inscribed with the following names: Homer, Hesiod, Euripedes, Ovid, Virgil, and Catullus.10 The bronze version has no base at all. A preparatory model for the composition, also in the Dijon Museum, shows that the proper pedestal for the sculpture was an important concern of the artist. The sketch reveals the relief decoration that Rude initially designed for the pedestal and which he considered a “complément obligé de la composition.”11The importance of the pedestal in Rude's sketches, and the final version inscribed with the names of the antique poets indicate that Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter was conceived by the artist to be more than a splendid contemporary interpretation of an antique subject. In short, it too was to serve as a commemorative monument, in this case to the glories of the classical past. As such, the selection of Hebe for the subject of the monument becomes clarified. As cupbearer to the gods, Hebe's presence elevates the literary heroes mentioned to the realm of the divine.12 As the embodiment of mid-19th-century ideals of youth and beauty, she artistically links the modern standards with those of the classical world. By evoking the past, Rude gave pedigree to the present.Rude considered Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter his “artistic testament.” It can be considered one for the period as well.Endnotes
  1. As quoted by Marcel Brion, Romantic Art (New York, 1960), p. 40.
  2. 69.92 The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund. Marble, 19” x 10 1/2”.
  3. See Sotheby's Sale Catalogue: Catalogo dell Arredamento dell Villa Demidoff, Pratolino, 22 April 1969, lot 186, p. 102. The illustrations for the book were done by a companion of the journey, the painter and naturalist, Auguste Raffet.
  4. See J. Seligman, Figures of Fun. The Caricature—Statuettes of Jean-Pierre Dantan (London, 1957).
  5. 69.21. The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund. Bronze, 30” (h.).
  6. One of Rude's most inspired Romantic portraits, Marshall Ney, (Place de l'Observatoire, Paris) was executed in bronze in 1853. Over life-size, it captures in a single figure the spirit of the Marseillaise.
  7. Another cast of the same size is in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
  8. A study in wax is in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. A more finished model, also in wax, is located in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Dijon, France.
  9. The cast mark of Thiébaut Frères is located on the left of the base. Thiébaut Frères (which ceased as a foundry ca. 1885) cast other sculptures by Rude.
  10. Joseph Calmette, François Rude (Paris, 1920), pp. 150 seq.
  11. See Pierre Quarré “Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, Nouvelles Acquisitions,” La Revue du Louvre, Vol. 14 (1964), pp. 253-254, illustrated fig. 8, p. 254. The model in wax shows the definitive group of Hebe and the Eagle fixed to a drum base decorated with a mask and classical figures.
  12. The fact that Virgil does not mention Hebe at all, and Catullus only briefly, precludes the assumption that Hebe was selected because of a thematic association with the works of the poets below.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Jean-Pierre Dantan the Younger. French (1800-1869). Prince Anatole Demidoff (Signed and dated on right side of base: Dantan jeune 1839). Marble, 1” x 10 1/2”. The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 69.92.
  2. François Rude. French (1784-1855). Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter (Signed to the right: F. Rude). Cast mark of Thiébault Frères on the left. Bronze with light golden-brown patination, 30” (h.). The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 69.21.
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Source: Mario Praz, "Nineteenth-Century French Sculpture: Jean-Pierre Dantan and François Rude," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 58 (1969): 58-63.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009