Sculpture is art at the pinnacle of what is possible. Throughout history sculptors have inspired wonder, by combining creativity, beauty and mystery to create a unique and almost timeless atmosphere with their wonderful works, none more so than French sculptor and draftsman Edmé Bouchardon (1698-1762), whose name deserves to be among the greats.
One of the talented craftsmen of the age of enlightenment, when the idea that freedom from religious oppression and economic growth driven by commerce and scientific endeavour, would help to make people’s lives unarguably better, Bouchardon became renowned for his meticulousness as he created compositions that captivated and challenged, sparking a great deal of conversation.
It is travelling from France where it has been on display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the first comprehensive survey devoted to this extraordinarily talented and important, although not well-known artist.
It showcases works highlighting the artist’s commitment to life drawing, his exploration of the relationship between drawing and sculpture, as well as his passion for classical art.
There are some thirty (30) sculptures in marble, stone, terra cotta, plaster, and bronze, many of which have never before been exhibited outside of France.
His Cupid, Carving a Bow from Hercule’s Club, installed in the Temple of Love at Versailles, caused a great deal of comment when it went on display in 1750, where everyone thought the ‘depiction of the youth’s body’ was far too realistic for current taste..
The philosopher Voltaire, considered the subject ‘enigmatic and unpleasant’ and that the sculptor Bouchardon had turned the god of Love into a “carpenter.” Heaven forbid!
“Bouchardon is one of history’s most admired draftsmen and sculptors. As a result of his prolific imagination and constant quest for perfection, his works were praised and sought after by the most discriminating art collectors of Europe, including the royal court,” explains exhibition curator Anne-Lise Desmas.
“However, over the centuries his renown has waned, especially outside of France. This exhibition is a tribute to an exceptional artist who should be a household name” said Desmas.
“Bouchardon’s astounding skill in carving marble and his brilliantly realized drawings, marveled at in his own time, remain just as captivating today,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.
“This exhibition and the companion publication, which explores Bouchardon’s art in greater depth than ever before, will offer the general public a rare opportunity to discover one of the most engaging and admired figures of eighteenth-century European art while also providing a stimulus to further scholarly research” Potts went on to say.
By the eighteenth century in the western world harmony and proportion in all branches of the arts were considered essential and relative to an educated man’s well being as they embraced the traditions long attached to the design and art of the ancients.
During the age of Enlightenment in Europe the goals of all rational man were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness as humanity began seeking a rational way of confronting the challenges of their age by taking the time to comprehend them during extended periods of peace.
Sculptors, painters and poets were the three most highly talented and admired artistic professions until seven centuries before the Christ event when statuary made from limestone, or sandstone required nothing more complicated than carpenter’s tools to work.
Marble required new tools and entirely different techniques, especially for finishing the surface and for artisans it was indeed an inspiring encounter, one that would augur well for the future development of architectural and sculptural traditions.
The son of a sculptor and architect Edme Bouchardon’s creations are the result of his passion for ancient art and intense study of nature.
Winning a competition to study at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris in 1723, Bouchardon both studied and copied classical art from antiquity, as well as the great Renaissance masters.
His notebooks record the artist’s experience of Rome with copies of statues or sketches reflecting those works from which he obtained creative inspiration.
This included a red chalk drawing of the fresco of Saint Matthew the Evangelist, 1622–27, painted by Italian Baroque painter Domenichino Zampieri (Italian, 1581–1641) to decorate the pendentive in Sant’Andrea della Valle, Rome.
He was also required to make a copy of a classical statue for the King during his stay.
He chose to produce a copy of the The Drunken Satyr or Barberini Faun, the original is a Roman copy of a high quality original, which had been found in the 1620’s on the site of the Castel Sant’Angelo at Rome, formerly the Mausoleum of the Emperor.
Bouchardon’s ‘Sleeping Faun’ while it retained the beauty of the classical original was far more realistic and sensuous due to the realistic modelling of its genitalia. Nudity in ancient times was quite normal, certainly not the focus for the intense voyeurism it is in our own time.
Male nudity was not merely tolerated, but entirely acceptable in the ancient world and this is a stunning work of art. The Faun may be asleep, but he is not at rest, his muscles are still tense as the sculptor honours one of the most celebrated and best beloved statues to survive from classical antiquity.
Bouchardon carved several portrait busts in a classicizing style to suit the demands of certain patrons, mostly British tourists.
He excelled in sculpting busts in style that owed much to Bernini, which is evident in his portrait of Pope Clement XI.
He also excelled at designing fountains and he produced some thirty fountains for garden and park settings in Rome and Paris.
In 1739 he completed sculptures in lead for the Neptune Fountain at Versailles.
His Grenelle Fountain completed 1739-1745 for the city of Paris aroused passionate debate at the time.
Known as the Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, it was the largest and most ornate of the thirty fountains built in Paris during the eighteenth century to provide drinking water to the city’s residents and to advertise the benevolence of their King Louis XV (1710-1774) known as the Well-Beloved.
Surviving drawings, prints, and sculpture in the exhibition serve to illustrate Bouchardon’s preparatory work for the fountain’s many different elements.
Bouchardon was also a draftsman at the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, for which he designed medals and engraved gems.
He was also an innovator in the field of Graphic arts, calling on his knowledge of allegory, myth and fable, ancient history, the decorative arts, caricature and the animal world to produce drawings and prints as independent works.
His last major sculptural work was of Louis XV on horseback, wearing classical costume and crowned with laurel leaves commissioned formally in 1749 for the Place Louis-Quinze.
The seventeen-foot-tall statue was finally installed on the present-day Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1763, several months after Bouchardon’s death, being completed by Jean Baptiste Pigalle however it was sadly destroyed during the French Revolution.
More than 400 drawings testify to the pains he took over the project, but all that is left today of the original sculpture is the right hand of the King.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
January 10 – April 2, 2017
J. Paul Getty Museum
Curated by Anne-Lise Desmas, curator and head of the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Édouard Kopp, the Maida and George Abrams Associate Curator of Drawings at the Harvard Art Museums.
Getty Publications will publish two related books: Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment by Anne-Lise Desmas, Édouard Kopp, Guilhem Scherf and Juliette Trey, and The Learned Draftsman: Edme Bouchardon by Édouard Kopp are both available from January 2017.
Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment was organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Musée de Louvre; the Los Angeles presentation is sponsored by City National Bank.