French Art – Institute School In General

I HAVE already mentioned the most representative among those who have ” arrived ” of the school of academic French sculpture as it exists to-day, though it would be easy to extend the list with Antonin Carlès, whose “Jeunesse ” of the World’s Fair of 1889 is a very graceful embodiment of adolescence ; Suchetet, whose ” Byblis ” of the same exhibition caused his early death to be deplored ; Adrien Gaudez, Etcheto, Idrac, and, of course, many others of distinction. There is no looseness in characterizing this as a ” school ;” it has its own qualities and its corresponding defects. It stands by itself—apart from the Greek sculpture and from its inspiration, the Renaissance, and from the more recent traditions of Houdon, or of Rude and Carpeaux. It is a thoroughly legitimate and unaffected expression of national thought and feeling at the present time, at once splendid and simple. The moment of triumph in any intellectual movement is, however, always a dangerous one. A slack-water period of intellectual slothfulness nearly always ensues. Ideas which have previously been struggling to get a hearing have become accepted ideas that have almost the force of axioms ; no one thinks of their justification, of their basis in real truth and fact ; they take their place in the great category of conventions. The mind feels no longer the exhilaration of discovery, the stimulus of fresh perception ; the sense becomes jaded, enthusiasm impossible. Dealing with the same material and guided by the same principles, its production becomes inevitably hackneyed, artificial, lifeless the Zeit-Geist, the Time-Spirit, is really a kind of Sisyphus, and the essence of life is movement. This law of perpetual renewal, of the periodical quickening of the human spirit, explains the barrenness of the inheritance of the greatest men ; shows why originality is a necessary element- of perfection ; why Phidias, Praxiteles, Donatello, Michael Angelo (not to go outside of our subject), had no successors. Once a thing is done it is done for all time, and the study of perfection itself avails only as a stimulus to perfection in other combinations. In fact, the more nearly perfect the model the greater the necessity for an absolute break with it in order to secure anything like an equivalent in living force ; in its direction at least everything vital has been done. So its lack of original force, its over-carefulness for style, its inevitable sensitiveness to the criticism that is based on convention, make the weak side of the French academic sculpture of the present day, fine and triumphant as it is. That the national thought and feeling are not a little conventional, and have the academic rather than a spontaneous inspiration, has, however, lately been distinctly felt as a misfortune and a limitation by a few sculptors whose work may be called the beginning of a new movement out of which, whatever may be its own limitations, nothing but good can come to French sculpture and of which the protagonists are Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou.

( 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