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Auguste Préault (Paris, 1809-1879)
Silence
Plaster

40 cm diameter

with an old label, partly erased, at top Me[dai]llon Le Silence / par Préau[lt] / cimetière au Pè[re Lac]haise / Pa[ri]s

Conceived in 1842


Provenance:
- Professor Alberto de Aguiar, Porto, thence by descent

Exhibited:
- International Exhibition for the Centenary of the Independence of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, 1922-1923

Comparative literature:
- I. Leroy-Jay Lemaistre, “Le Silence”, Nouvelles acquisitions du départment des sculptures (1984-1987), Paris, 1988, n. 5, pp. 120-123
- A. Le Normand-Romain, Mémoire de marbre. La sculpture funéraire en France 1804-1914, Paris, 1995, pp. 162-166
- Auguste Préault, sculpteur romantique 1809-1879, exh. cat., Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 1997, pp. 115-117 and n. 80, pp. 154-157
- Auguste Préault, Romanticism in bronze, 1809-1879, exh. cat., Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, October 1997 – January 1998, cat. 4a, pp. 28-29


Préault trained in the studio of David d’Angers. He made his Salon début in 1833 with sculptures displaying socially conscious themes (Two poor women, Beggary) and his Michelangesque style reflected his identification with Romanticism. Soon the uncompromising nature of his subject matter and style would result in his being refused at the Salon, but he received public and private commissions, producing some of his best works in the 1840s. Among them is Silence for the tomb of Jacob Roblès at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (1842-1843), from which the present plaster derives.

One of Préault’s most celebrated works, the marble medallion of Silence is still in situ above the tomb at the Père Lachaise cemetery and a number of versions in bronze or plaster are known. The Musée du Louvre and the Musée Carnavalet in Paris as well as the Musée Bonnat in Bayonne have a plaster version in their collections. A bronze version was exhibited at the Paris salon of 1849, the artist’s first participation after having been ostracised since 1837. Silence was admired by writers and artists; the painter Paul Huet owned a plaster version (now in the Louvre), as well Corot (mentioned in his posthumous sale) and the photographer Nadar (location unknown). It also became a source of inspiration for Symbolist artists such as Redon, Khnopff and Lévy-Dhurmer. The dramatic medallion of a funereal figure with a finger on the lips evokes the secret of the impassable frontier between the world of the dead and that of the living. Deeply cut, this striking sculpture features powerful shadows that enhance the intensity of its composition.

Silence was created in 1842 for the tomb of the now obscure Jacob Roblès (Port au Prince, 1792 – Paris, 1842) in the Jewish section of the Père Lachaise. It is not known how Préault met the Roblès family but they manifestly remained in contact since the artist made again a funeral medallion for another member of the family in 1875.

The present relief belonged to Professor Alberto de Aguiar, a noted physician who opened a laboratory in Porto in 1897. Photographs of Professor de Aguiar’s library show that the plaster was prominently placed on a shelf among his books. In 1922-23 his laboratory and library were recreated during the International Exhibition for the Centenary of the Independence of Brazil that was held in Rio de Janeiro; Silence also features on photographs of this event.

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