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