Vive la Révolution!

From 2 to 16 July 2021

The Daniel Katz Gallery is pleased to present Vive la Révolution! in tandem with London Art Week’s own theme of Revolution and Renewal. The show is a fascinating insight into sculpture produced during a century of great political upheaval and unrest in France - one which would shape the nation and its culture forever. Through the lens of some of the greatest masters of the time, including Houdon, Carpeaux and Dalou, the show explores the fluctuating artistic styles during one of the most tumultuous periods in western history. The show takes as its departure point Claude Michel Clodion’s (1738-1814) glorious A Bacchic Group, dating to the last quarter of the 18th century. Clodion’s playful and exuberant terracotta sketch depicts a decadent scene of bacchanalian revellery and exemplifies the artistic tradition of the ancien régime for such intimate works. Clodion’s small-scale terracottas, although intended to serve as informative preparatory sketches, became highly prized works of art in their own right amongst amateur aristocratic collectors; themselves inspired by the taste of Louis XV. King Louis had the monumental apartments at Versailles subdivided to create more refined, intimate settings, and hung with rococo pastoral scenes, fêtes galantes, and charming small sculpture groups, which became the fashion of the day. Joseph Chinard’s (1756-1813) impressive neo-classical Portrait of a Female Artist from circa 1800 is in stark contrast to Clodion’s Bacchic Group. Highly refined and attentive to detail, the portrait has the purity and harmony quintessential to neo-classical art of the period following the French Revolution. The sitter, traditionally identified as Marie-Constance Charpentier wears her hair and dress à la Greque. After the Revolution there was a desire to disassociate oneself from noble connotations and traditions, and so in fashion (and culture more broadly) there was a move toward naturalism and expression of the self. This is a notion brilliantly encapsulated in the present sculpture – particularly in the wonderfully sophisticated hair and dress which appear loose, flowing and natural. The dynamic curls are a tour de force of carving and reflect visually the psychological notion of a strong-willed character with the resolve and determination needed by an artist in post revolution France. A son of the Age of Enlightenment, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) closely witnessed some of the most significant events in European history, from the French Revolution to the rise and fall of Napoleon, relentlessly capturing with his hands and chisel the likenesses and spirit of its foremost protagonists. His Herm Bust of Maréchal Soult from 1813 is an exquisite example of his portraiture of the Napoleonic era. The sculpture was intended for a gallery of busts, depicting the leading military figures in France, proposed for the Tuilieries in Paris but never finished. Soult was one of France’s most formidable military and political leaders of the period who rose up through the ranks from humble origins to be bestowed with the prestigious title of Maréchal General de France – a title that was bestowed on only five other occasions. Following the fall of the Napoleonic Empire in 1814 France was exhausted by war but subsequently enjoyed a sustained period of stable economic prosperity in the 1820s and 30s. Jean Pierre Dantan Jeune’s (1800-1869) La Loge Anglais dating to 1834 reflects the sentimentality and humour of Romantic French art of those years. Whimsical and depicting the full range of human emotion it is a far cry from the reserved solemn marble portraiture of Houdon’s Soult or Chinard’s Female Artist. Said to be the inventor of the sculptural caricature, Dantan mixed an interest in observing society with exaggerated facial features and expressions to produce highly original and humorous society portraits. La Loge Anglais shows that no one was safe from Dantan’s genius, poking fun at even English aristocracy as in this group plaster. The quartet of English aristocrats are sitting in a box watching a performance of the Barber of Seville (as indicated on the program) with varying degrees of boredom and drunkenness. Despite innovative artists such as Dantan and the rise of Romanticism, the legacy of neo-classicism and the Empire was not easy to shake however. Critics of mid-nineteenth century sculpture decried the unoriginal imitation of ancient art and the pretentiousness of public monuments. With the Second Empire came a transition toward art that was more relaxed and natural. The work of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) and his famous La Rieuse Napolitaine of 1869 came to exemplify that taste. Breaking with tradition for historical and austere portraits La Rieuse Neapolitan depicts a young, impoverished Neapolitan girl smiling. Her pose is dynamic and the subject conveys a notion of freedom and immediacy unseen before in French sculpture. At the time the work divided opinion as Carpeaux pushed the boundaries and possibilities of what was acceptable to represent in sculptural form. With such works the concept of the ‘fantasy bust’ was born in which a feeling and emotion of the general human condition are conveyed in the portrait, rather than specific representation of a certain individual. Similarly, Carpeaux’s plaster Bust of Madame le Baronne de Sipière, (dating to the 1870s, and depicting the wife of a notable lawyer in the retinue of Napoleon III) playfully reinterprets the swagger of formal society portraits of the previous century with the integral socle, sweeping drapery, and floral bouquet on her décolletage, Yet simultaneously, it is more dynamic and naturalistic than French sculpture of the previous decades. The boundaries pushed by Carpeaux are furthered by his younger contemporary Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838-1902) in his breath-taking Paysanne Français Allaitant son Enfant which, like the Clodion which marked the beginning of the show, is also executed in terracotta. Signed and dated 1872 this lively sculpture is the earliest version of a celebrated composition of which another larger version was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1873 and now resides in the V&A Museum collections. Dalou, having publicly sided with the Paris Commune of working class radicalists, took refuge in London for eight years from 1871. Perceptive and unpretentious, Dalou’s work of powerful social realism captured the imagination of audiences of all classes in both in London and Paris in a truly modern new era.

selected works