Fitzwilliam and Bourdelle strike a new friendship


Thomas Gainsborough, Heneage Lloyd and his sister Lucy from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Jane Munro, curator of paintings and drawings at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, speaks perfect French and travels to Paris often. She found it totally natural, after spending six years of her life researching artists mannequins in paintings, to offer Musée Bourdelle the exhibition she had curated in Cambridge. Amélie Simier, took it on for the reopening of her museum devoted to sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and his studio. The result is a fun, quirky, unusual show where Courbet paintings flirt with Gainsborough and de Chirico with Kokoschka.


Three pairs of blue eyes for a successful exhibition! Jane Munro (left) and Amélie Simier are enjoying their mannequins.

The visit guided by Jérôme Godeau who curated the French version of the show,  was an intense moment of pleasure. Never had I imagined that serious painters such as Gainsborough would paint from wooden models rather than from real children, when he portrays Heneage Lloyd and his sister Lucy ! Fascination and fetishism for models is a well known phenomenon, but when I heard the story of Kokoschka, who ordered a life size doll to look like Alma Mahler whom he had loved, took it along to dinner parties and ended up cutting her head off ! I understood how mad artists can be.

THe curator François Boudeau with Kokoschka's mad "self-portrait with chevalet", 1922

The curator Jérôme Godeau with Kokoschka’s “Self-portrait with chevalet”, 1922 (Oskar Kokoschka Foundation)

The first mannequin we see is anonymous and made in 1810 in Italy. It comes out of a dark niche and looks very Etruscan with its short curly hair. It is so realistic ! José Maria Sert’s models are photographed in black and white : they were used by the artist in preparation for his large paintings.

One of the oldest mannequins, mad win Italy in 1810

One of the oldest mannequins, made in Italy in 1810

Two models bought by Elsa Schiaparelli on Salvador Dali’s advice, have names : Pascal is made of walnut, Pascaline of beech wood. Couture designer Madeleine Vionnet also had a small wooden model that she draped dresses on. In the last room, de Chirico’s three large paintings let us think about dreamt perfection and artificial sentiments in « Antigone consolatrice », 1973. It was a challenge to base an exhibition on such a strange accessory and Jane Munro and Amélie Simier have deserved their huge success : the show is uniquely interesting.

One of Antoine Bourdelle's unique sculptures in the the pretty garden

One of Antoine Bourdelle’s monumental sculptures in the pretty garden

(Musée Bourdelle, 18 rue Antoine Bourdelle, near Montparnasse. Closed on Mondays)

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4 Comments on “Fitzwilliam and Bourdelle strike a new friendship”

  1. Eva Firmenich

    Really interesting! Had no idea about the wooden mannequins. Will see this show next time in Paris. Always loved Kokoschka.

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