French Art – Emmanuel Fremiet

M. EMMANUEL FRÉMIET occupies a place by himself. There have been but two modern sculptors who have shown an equally pronounced genius for representing animals—namely, Barye, of course, and Barye’s clever but not great pupil, Cain. The tigress in the Central Park, perhaps the best bronze there (the competition is not exacting), and the best also of the several variations of the theme of which, at one time, the sculptor apparently could not tire, familiarizes Americans with the talent of Cain. In this association Rouillard, whose horse in the Trocadéro Gardens is an animated and elegant work, ought to be mentioned, but it is hardly as good as the neighboring elephant of Frémiet as mere animal representation (the genre exists and has excellences and defects of its own), while in more purely artistic worth it is quite eclipsed by its rival. Still if fauna is interesting in and of itself, which no one who knows Barye’s work would controvert, it is still more interesting when, to put it brutally, some-thing is done with it. In his ambitious and colossal work at the Trocadéro, M. Frémiet does in fact use his fauna freely as artistic material, though at first sight it is its zoological interest that appears paramount. The same is true of the elephant near by, in which it seems as if he had designedly attacked the difficult problem of rendering embodied awkwardness decorative. Still more conspicuous, of course, is the artistic interest, the fancy, the humor, the sportive grace of his Luxembourg group of a young satyr feeding honey to a brace of bear’s cubs, because he here concerns himself more directly with his idea and gives his genius freer play. And everyone will remember the sensation caused by his impressively repulsive ” Gorilla Carrying off a Woman.” But it is when he leaves this kind of thing entirely, and, wholly forgetful of his studies at the Jardin des Plantes, devotes himself to purely monumental work, that he is at his best. And in saying this I do not at all mean to insist on the superiority of monumental sculpture to the sculpture of fauna; it is superior, and Barye himself cannot make one content with the exclusive consecration of admirable talent to picturesque anatomy illustrating distinctly unintellectual passions. M. Frémiet, in ecstasy over his picturesque anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes, would scout this ; but it is nevertheless true that in such works as the ” Âge de la pierre,” which, if it may be called a monumental clock top, is nevertheless certainly monumental ; his “Louis d’Orléans,” in the quadrangle of the restored Chateau de Pierrefonds ; his “Jeanne d’Arc” (the later statue is not, I think, essentially different from the earlier one) ; and his “Torch-bearer” of the Middle Ages, in the new Hôtel de Ville of Paris, not only is his subject a subject of loftier and more enduring interest than his elephants and deer and bears, but his own genius finds a more congenial medium of expression. In other words, any one who has seen his “Torch-bearer ” or his “Louis d’Orléans” must conclude that M. Frémiet is losing his time at the Jardin des Plantes. In monumental works of the sort he displays a commanding dignity that borders closely upon the grand style itself. The ” Jeanne d’Arc ” is indeed criticised for lack of style. The horse is fine, as always with M. Frémiet ; the action of both horse and rider is noble, and the homogeneity of the two, so to speak, is admirably achieved. But the character of the Maid is not perfectly satisfactory to à priori critics, to critics who have more or less hard and fast notions about the immiscibility of the heroic and the familiar. The “Jeanne d’Arc ” is of course a heroic statue, illustrating one of the most puissant of profane legends ; and it is unquestionably familiar and, if one chooses, defiantly unpretentious. Perhaps the Maid as M. Frémiet represents her could never have accomplished legend-producing deeds. Certainly she is the Maid neither of Chapu, nor of Bastien-Lepage, nor of the current convention. She is, rather, pretty, sympathetically childlike, mignonne; but M. Frémiet’s conception is an original and a gracious one, and even the critic addicted to formulæ has only to for-get its title to become thoroughly in love with it ; beside this merit a priori shortcomings count very little. But the other two works just mentioned are open to no objection of this kind or of any other, and in the category to which they belong they are splendid works. Since Donatello and Verrocchio nothing of the kind has been done which surpasses them ; and it is only M. Frémiet’s penchant for animal sculpture, and his fondness for exercising his lighter fancy in comparatively trivial objets de vertu, that obscure in any degree his fine talent for illustrating the grand style with natural ease and large simplicity.

( Originally Published 1892 )

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