Bourdelle, an erotic “antics” lover

Jean François Gilibert, Ingres visiting the new school for drawing, 1826, Montauban, Ingres Museum

Sometimes, a title can kill a show or a film. So don’t let yourself be discouraged by « Bourdelle et l’Antique », the title of a magnificent exhibition devoted to sculpture at the beginning of the 20 th century at Musée Bourdelle. It catches the best of Antoine Bourdelle, Aristide Maillol, Amedeo Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne on the theme of women and athletes, Gods and Goddesses. 

Antoine Bourdelle, La Danse, bas-relief for Théâtre des Champs Elysées, 1912

I was lucky to be toured around by Jérôme Godeau,  curator of the show with Claire Barbillon, who spent two years finding Greek statues at the Louvre, paintings in Montauban where Bourdelle like Ingres was born, photographs and Giacometti sculptures at musée d’Orsay and uncovering the treasures which are kept in the reserves of the Museum.

Antoine Bourdelle, Herakles archer, 1908-1909

Archaïsm leading to modernity could be the theme of the exhibition which describes the Greek and Egyptian myths (Pallas Athena, Apollo, Herakles, Cleopatra, Penelope and the Centaur) revisited by the sculptor between 1900 and 1914. 150 works describe the world of these artists of the turn of the century who all studied antic statues at the Louvre and at Ecole des Beaux Arts and created their own style in sculptures.

Henri Matisse, La Serpentine, Musée d’Orsay © Succession Henri Matisse, Paris 2017  © RMN-Grand Palais / Adrien Didierjean.  “Service de presse/musée Boudelle” devra être portée

Whether in a painting of “Baigneuses” by Cézanne or in a « Bust » by Germaine Richier, in the fabulous decors of “La Danse” for Théâtre des Champs Elysées by Bourdelle or in “La Méditerranée” by Maillol, a strong sensuality comes through in all of these works.

Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) Copie d’antique, detail of l’Amazone blessée, v.1880 legs Rhodia Dufet-Bourdelle, 2002. © musée Bourdelle / Roger-Viollet.

Some of the works that struck me the most is the series of sculptures with large voids, the bronze bodies standing in equilibrium. This is true of Herakles, archer or with a lady deer, of the plaster of “Bacchante with grapes”, of Henri Matisse’s “La Serpentine” and of Henri Laurens “Musician with a harp”.

Jérôme Godeau, the passionate curator of the show

What the curators did particularly well in the show, is relate the different artists of the time and compare their subjects and styles. The different influences are obvious.

Through paintings, photographs and many Greek sculptures, the mythological world of Bourdelle comes alive and photographs of his two wives (the second one a Greek) also influence our perception of his art. Whether God or human, all these statues have a surreal power. The scenography by Cécile Degos is particularly clever, providing angles of vision of the different monumental statues. Penelope waiting for Odysseus I presented on its original socle which was made especially. It is so high that it is particularly impressive to the eye. Pablo Picasso’s Masque de femme, 1908 and Amedeo Modigliani, Tête de Femme, 1912, are just as strong and fascinating.

Charles Marville, Ecole des Beaux Arts, salle des moulages, 1876, Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris

The museum is located near Gare Montparnasse in an atelier belonging to the city of Paris and has a very special charm similar to that of Musée de la Vie Romantique or the Zadkine museum. You can wander in the garden and in the different buildings and keep dreaming about the fabulous muscles and body of the Archer ! And I recommend that you ask Estelle Guichard for a private tour with a lecturer because the history behind each piece is remarkable. (Musée Bourdelle, tel: 01 49 54 73 73, until Feburary 4, 16 rue Bourdelle)

Pleureuse, Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines, période hellénistique (323-31 av J.-C.) inspired Bourdelle © RMN-Grand Palais (musée. du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski. “Service de presse/musée Bourdelle”

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