THE French sculptor may draw his inspiration from the sources of originality itself, his audience will measure the result by conventions. It is this fact undoubtedly that is largely responsible for the over-carefulness for style already remarked. Hence the work of M. Aimé-Millet and of Professors Guillaume and Cavelier, and the fact that they are professors. Hence also the election of M. Falguière to succeed to the chair of the Beaux-Arts left vacant by the death of Jouffroy some years ago. All of these have done admirable work. Professor Guillaume’s Gracchi group at the Luxembourg is alone enough to atone for a mass of productions of which the ” Castalian Fount ” of a recent Salon is the cold and correct representative. Cavelier’s ” Gluck,” destined for the Opéra, is spirited, even if a trifle galvanic. Millet’s ” Apollo,” which crowns the main gable of the Opéra, stands out among its author’s other works as a miracle of grace and rhythmic movement. M. Falguière’s admirers, and they are numerous, will object to the association here made. Falguière’s range has al-ways been a wide one, and everything he has done has undoubtedly merited a generous portion of the prodigious encomiums it has invariably obtained. Yet, estimating it in any other way than by energy, variety, and mass, it is impossible to praise it highly with precision. It is too plainly the work of an artist who can do one thing as well as another, and of which cleverness is, after all, the spiritual standard. Bartholdi, who also should not be forgotten in any sketch of French sculpture, would, I am sure, have acquitted himself more satisfactorily than Falguière did in the colossal groups of the Trocadéro and the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. To acquit himself satisfactorily is Bartholdi’s specialty. These two groups are the largest and most important that a sculptor can have to do. The crowning of the Arc de Triomphe at least was a splendid opportunity. Neither of them had any distinction of out-line, of mass, of relation, or of idea. Both were conventional to the last degree. That on the Arc had even its ludicrous details, such as occur only from artistic absent-mindedness in a work conceived and executed in a fatigued and hackneyed spirit. The ” Saint Vincent de Paul ” of the Panthéon, which justly passes for the sculptor’s chef-d’oeuvre is in idea a work of large humanity. M. Falguière is behind no one in ability to conceive a subject of this kind with propriety, and his subject here is inspiring if ever a subject was. The ” Petit Martyr ” of the Luxembourg has a real charm, but it too is content with too little, as one finds out in seeing it often ; and it is in no sense a large work, scarcely larger than the tiresomely popular ” Running Boy ” of the same museum, which nevertheless in its day marked an epoch in modelling. Indeed, so slight is the spiritual hold that M. Falguière has on one, that it really seems as if he were at his best in such a frankly carnal production as his since variously modified ” Nymph Hunting ” of the Triennial Exposition of 1883. The idea is nothing or next to nothing, but the surface faire is superb.
M. Barrias, M. Delaplanche, and M. Le Feuvre have each of them quite as much spontaneity as M. Falguière, though the work of neither is as important in mass and variety. M. Delaplanche is always satisfactory, and beyond this there is something large about what he does that confers dignity even in the absence of quick interest. His proportions are simple, his outline flowing, and the agreeable ease of his compositions makes up to a degree for any lack of sympathetic sentiment or impressive significance: witness his excellent “Maternal Instruction,” of the little park in front of Sainte Clothilde. M. Le Feuvre’s qualities are very nearly the reverse of these : he has a fondness for integrity quite hostile in his case to simplicity. In his very frank appeal to one’s susceptibility he is a little careless of sculptural considerations, which he is prone to sacrifice to pictorial ends. The result is a mannerism that in the end ceases to impress, and even becomes disagreeable. As nearly as may be in a French sculptor it borders on sentimentality, and finally the swaying attitudes of his figures become limp, and the startled-fawn eyes of his maidens and youths appear less touching than lackadaisical. But his being himself too conscious of it should not obscure the fact that he has a way of his own. M. Barrias is an artist of considerably greater powers than either M. Le Feuvre or M. Delaplanche ; but one has a vague perception that his powers are limited, and that to desire in his case what one so sincerely wishes in the case of M. Dubois, namely, that he would ” let himself go,” would be unwise. Happily, when he is at his best there is no temptation to form such a wish. The “Premières Funérailles” is a superb work ” the chef-d’oeuvre of our modern sculpture,” a French critic enthusiastically terms it. It is hardly that ; it has hardly enough spiritual distinctionnot quite enough of either elegance or elevationto merit such sweeping praise. But it may be justly termed, I think, the most completely representative of the masterpieces of that sculpture. Its triumph over the prodigious difficulties of elaborate composition “in the round “difficulties to which M. Barrias succumbed in the “Spartacus” of the Tuileries Gardensand its success in subordinating the details of a group to the end of enforcing a single motive, preserving the while their individual interest, are complete. Nothing superior in this respect has been done since John of Bologna’s “Rape of the Sabines.”
( Originally Published 1892 )
French Art:Academic Sculpture – Falguiere, Barrias, Delaplanche, And Le FeuvreAcademic Sculpture – Emmanuel FremietAcademic Sculpture – The Institute School In GeneralThe New Movement In Sculpture – RodinThe New Movement In Sculpture – DalouRead More Articles About: French Art