Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Sculpture
First Things First...
The history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sculpture is a huge area encompassing various countries and a multitude of techniques and processes that are sometimes difficult for professors to tackle, especially if sculpture is not in their area of expertise. In this lesson plan, I have selected the most prominent and most widely discussed sculptors, and I have attempted to choose at least one sculptural example of every major style of the centuries in question (Rococo, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, and Symbolism). The works can also be presented through a thematic approach, as the selections can be used to attempt such topics as social class; politics; power versus subjugation; enslavement; images of the body; nudity; and male field domination in the realm of sculpture.
One way to open up the discussion before starting the lecture might be to ask students what they already know about sculpture. If they have studied ancient art, they might be able to recall terms such as contrapposto; lost-wax casting method; polychromy; relief; sculpture in the round; carving versus casting; and idealism versus realism (small r, as in “realistic”). Another possibility would be to have the students compare and contrast two sculptures, including one they might already know from their study of the ancient world (e.g., Augustus of Prima Porta) with one of the Neoclassical sculptures in this lesson (e.g., Houdon’s George Washington). Other comparisons to jumpstart some conversation might be to compare, for example, Praxiteles’s Hermes with the Infant Dionysos with Clodion’s The Intoxication of Wine; The Etruscan Reclining Couple on a Sarcophagus from Cerveteri with Canova’s Paulina Borghese as Venus Victrix; or, later in the lesson, two closely contemporary works such as Powers’s Greek Slave with Hosmer’s Zenobia in Chains. I have suggested other discussion topics at the end of this document.
One could also ask if the students feel that painting has been or is given more attention in textbooks and museum presentations than sculpture, or if this seems to change over time, and for what reasons. This might open up the discussion of how many paintings do not survive from the ancient world or how sculpture was traditionally and primarily used as a decorative element on architectural structures. An intriguing discussion might cover how and when sculpture may have begun to break away from architecture and be able to stand alone as a unique and separate form of fine art. This may take the conversation too far back, but many sculpture scholars believe that the group sculpture Ekkehard and Uta at Naumberg Cathedral in Germany (c. 1249–55) has the emotional quality and individualized power of more modern sculpture, even though the group remains still somewhat attached to the columns behind it; Donatello is a later, but more obvious, first protagonist in the history of life-sized, freestanding, non-architecture-based sculpture, especially in his use of bronze; he was followed by Michelangelo and Bernini, who mastered the media of marble. It might help to use sculptures that students already know to ease them into a discussion of later, more modern sculpture.
Note: Throughout the following section, suggestions marked by an asterisk or other symbol are linked to assignment ideas in the At the End of Class section below.
Scope of the lecture:
In reviewing some of the most common art history survey textbooks currently in use, I selected twelve sculptors who appear most often in such texts. I also tried to focus on works by these twelve sculptors where material could be found on the Internet about the artists and their works in English and works that were part of major museum collections. In the At the End of Class section below, I suggest some additional artists and artworks that could be added to this lesson if time and/or interest in the subject permits. The strongest work of the period in question was produced in France, and thus the lesson focuses primarily on French sculpture. However, the Italian Antonio Canova cannot be omitted, as his reputation and influence flowed far and wide, and the artworks of the Americans Hiram Powers, Harriet Hosmer, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens are crucial to the understanding of the cross-influence between Europe and the United States at the time the sculptures were made.
This material can be explored in an hour and fifteen minutes through a variety of examples, including:
- Clodion, The Intoxication of Wine, c. 1780–90
- Jean-Antoine Houdon, George Washington, c. 1788–92
- Antonio Canova, Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, 1808
- François Rude, Departure of the Volunteers (The Marseillaise), 1836
- Hiram Powers, Greek Slave, 1844
- Harriet Hosmer, Zenobia in Chains, 1862
- Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, The Dance, 1865–9
- Auguste Rodin, The Age of Bronze, 1876
- Camille Claudel, The Waltz, 1889–90
- Edgar Degas, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, 1880
- Jules Dalou, The Great Peasant, 1898–1902
- Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Adams Memorial, 1886–91
Architectural sculpture: sculpture linked to architecture as its base.
Additive sculpture: sculpture created by building up or modeling (e.g., with clay) rather than removing material from a larger source (e.g., chiseling away marble).
Base: the support for a piece of sculpture.
Cast: to form into a three-dimensional shape by pouring materials (e.g., molten metal, liquid plaster, or plastic) into a mold or something formed by this means. Cast can also refer to an impression formed in a mold or matrix. [Definition from ArtLex Art Dictionary]
Chasing: the process of finishing and refining the surface of a metal object’s surface by denting rather than engraving it with steel tools such as tracers, ciselet, punches, and matting tools. Chasing might be done in order to remove the imperfections and rough spots on a bronze cast that necessarily form in the casting process. Chasing might also be done in order to ornament metal surfaces by embossing or hollowing them with tools. [ArtLex]
“Cire-perdue”/lost-wax casting method: a casting process for which a sculptor must first produce his sculpture in wax, then create a mold around this made of refractory materials. When the mold is heated, the wax melts away so that molten metal can replace it, reproducing exactly the original wax sculpture. [ArtLex]
In-the-round sculpture: to be viewed from all sides; freestanding; the opposite of relief. When referring to sculpture, in-the-round sculpture is surrounded on all sides by space. [ArtLex]
Life cast: to make a mold of the human body rather than sculpting from a model.
Maquette: a small sculpture made as a preparatory study or model for a full-scale work. [ArtLex]
Mixed media: containing several materials in one artwork.
Patina: a sheen or coloration on any surface, either unintended and produced by age or intended and produced by simulation or stimulation, which signifies the object’s age. Bronze objects often develop a green patina. [ArtLex]
Relief (high/low/sunken): a type of sculpture in which form projects from a background. There are three degrees or types of relief: high, low, and sunken. In high relief, the forms stand far out from the background. In low relief (also known as bas-relief), they are shallow. In sunken relief, also called hollow or intaglio, the backgrounds are not cut back and the points in highest relief are level with the original surface of the material being carved. [ArtLex]
Sand-casting method: a method of casting in metal in which a mold is made by firmly packing layers of very fine damp sand around a sculpture. When the original is removed, an exact impression is left in the sand. [ArtLex]
Subtractive sculpture: sculpture created by removing material from a larger source (e.g., chiseling away marble) rather than by building up or modeling (e.g., with clay).
The playful and erotic characteristics of the Rococo style are best exemplified by the small-scale terracotta sculptures of Claude Michel, the artist known as Clodion (1738–1814). Sculptures such as The Intoxication of Wine (c. 1780–90) were typical of his oeuvre, and display his delicate and skilled handling of the clay. Terracotta sculptures were very popular among art collectors in the eighteenth century for a number of reasons. One is that they were small and appropriate for display in a home or study. Another is that they were considered to be closer to the artist’s original intent and inspiration than works that were translated from clay into stone or metal. They were also often less costly than works in marble and bronze that required more time and labor. By the 1780s, the Rococo style had fallen out of favor in France, due to the reaction against artworks that lacked a moral message or a reference to antique art and subject matter; however, Clodion continued to have success with his tabletop sculptures. He later adapted the Neoclassical style to his work. Clodion would have worked this sculpture on a trestle table, that is, a special table that has an adjustable top that could turn. This small sculpture in the round was rendered to a heightened polish from all sides, and evokes a powerful sense of movement and dynamism that was highly prized by viewers. The Intoxication of Wine is the first of several sexually charged works in this lesson, and some, like this and Carpeaux’s The Dance, were conceived under the guise of a mythological pretext.
Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828) was a French Neoclassical sculptor who trained at the Royal Academy in France and won the prestigious Prix-de-Rome in 1764. He specialized in busts and full-length figures of important contemporary Enlightenment figures. Due to the diplomatic friendliness of France and the United States during those years, he received many commissions for portraits from American politicians, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His statue of George Washington, made between 1788 and 1792, was commissioned by the Virginia State Legislature to be placed in their state house. The sculpture is replete with classical references, including the plowshare— a reference to the ancient Roman soldier Cincinnatus who, like Washington, returned to his farm after his great military victories rather than seek greater political power. The ancient symbol of the fasces, or bound bundle of rods, is also included. The fasces is an ancient Etruscan symbol of strength through unity and collective power. Houdon included thirteen rods in this bundle to represent the thirteen colonies. Washington is dressed in contemporary clothing, and he successfully adapted a contemporary figure to a concept replete with ancient political symbols.* Issues of power and heroism could be discussed with the students here.
Among Houdon’s contemporaries, the most internationally known and revered Neoclassical sculptor at the beginning of the nineteenth century was the Italian Antonio Canova (1757–1822). He created both large-scale public monuments and sculptures for private patrons. In addition to having numerous patrons in his home country, he was as close as one could come to being a “court” sculptor for Napoleon I of France. Canova also worked on commissions for many members of the imperial family, and his most well-known work is a “disguised” portrait of Napoleon’s sister, entitled Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, from 1808. While Borghese’s face is idealized, the folds of the stomach flesh are more natural, and she may have personally posed for Canova in the nude. Borghese holds the apple of Venus, a symbol of the goddess’s victory as the fairest goddess after she was chosen as such by the mortal Paris. Borghese’s husband Camillo disliked the sculpture, as it seemed to confirm rumors that his wife was promiscuous. It was thus placed in a private room at the Borghese Villa, where it was shown only to their intimate guests, often by candlelight. Canova utilized different-colored marbles and gilding in the work in reference to ancient Roman sculpture, but the sculpture was also very innovative, as it contained a motor that allowed it to rotate for the viewer. Canova thereby challenged age-old complaints that sculpture was static and stiff and that a viewer had to walk around a sculpture to fully experience it. After the fall of Napoleon, Canova negotiated for the return of looted art taken from Italy by France.**
After the uprisings of 1830 in France, the style of Romanticism reached its high point of its popularity The most well-known example of Romantic sculpture from France is the Departure of the Volunteers (The Marseillaise), a high relief located on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris completed in 1836 by François Rude (1784–1855). The scene depicts a romanticized version of the Battle of Valmy, in which French volunteer soldiers defended the First Republic against Austro-Prussian forces. Historically, some of Rude’s family members were part of the volunteer army. While The Marseillaise contains all of the drama, emotion and movement characteristic of Romanticism, Rude also makes references to classical military garb and places an allegorical figure of Liberty above the figures. [Note: Be careful with comparisons to the Winged Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre; While Smarthistory makes this comparison, Rude could not have known of this specific Nike, because he died in 1855, and the Hellenistic sculpture was only rediscovered in 1863.] The title refers to the French national anthem, the words of which were written in the same year as the battle (1792) by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle; the words were set to music by Hector Berlioz in 1830. Also, Eugène Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People, shown in the Salon of 1831, would have been a direct inspiration for Rude.***
Certainly the most famous, widely traveled, and reproduced American sculpture was the Greek Slave (1844) by Hiram Powers (1805–73). Typical of many Neoclassical artworks, the sculpture commented on the present by referencing a past event. Powers’s sculpture depicts a young, Greek Christian girl captured by the Turks during the Greek War of Independence (1821–32). While Powers had not intended the sculpture to be a commentary on the issue of slavery in the United States, it was seen as such by many contemporary critics. As the figure’s nudity challenged the Puritan sensibilities of the U.S., a small cross, an accompanying pamphlet written by a Reverend, and the usage of pure, white marble established the reading of the girl as pure. The sculpture was widely known because it was shown at Universal Exhibitions in London (1845 and 1851) and Paris (1855), and it toured many cities in the U.S. Six versions of the full-scale sculpture were ultimately made. Students should be reminded that the Neoclassical style persisted in the U.S. (here, into the 1840s) long after it was eclipsed by other styles, particularly in France.‡
Harriet Hosmer’s Zenobia in Chains was shown near Powers’ Greek Slave in London in 1862. Hosmer (1830–1908) studied with the Welsh Neoclassical sculptor John Gibson after she settled in Rome from 1852 to 1853. Her most famous sculpture is Zenobia in Chains, which depicts the queen of the Palmyrene Empire, shown here as she was forced to march through the streets of Rome as a prisoner after the defeat of her army in 272CE by the Roman emperor Aurelian. While Hosmer tended to focus on the trauma or death of her female subjects, Zenobia is shown as accepting her fate with courage. Though Hosmer could have been commenting on American slavery, history indicates that she was more likely referring to the contemporary struggle for unification in Italy. There were few prior visual interpretations of the subject, so Hosmer based her Zenobia on literary sources and a contemporary book entitled Celebrated Female Sovereigns (1831) by Anna Jameson. Sculptures that Hosmer saw at the Vatican Museums in Rome may have provided additional sources for the figure (e.g., the Athena Giustiniani and the Barbarini Juno). Because of her gender, Hosmer was accused of not producing her own marbles. In response to criticism of her use of assistants, she published the essay “The Process of Sculpture” (1864) in Atlantic Monthly, now a standard text in the history of nineteenth-century sculpture. It discusses, in part, the inequality between men and women working in the field of sculpture.
François Rude’s most successful student was Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827–75), best known for his high-relief group for the façade of the Paris Opera entitled The Dance (1865–9). In this work, a winged personification of Dance is surrounded by six or more realistically rendered nude females. The sculpture is bursting with erotic energy, and critics were disapproving of the non-idealized bodies of the dancers and the choice of a sexualized, “indecent” subject for an architectural sculpture. On August 26 or 27 of 1869, a vandal threw a bottle of ink at the sculpture, and it stained the hip of the bacchante on the left and some of the surrounding area. The sculpture was cleaned five days later by a chemist. Indeed, the sculptural group caused so much outcry that it was slated to be removed and replaced; however, the onset of the Franco-Prussian War made discussion of the sculpture less important, and two years later the idea to replace the group was forgotten. Since Carpeaux and his wife funded the overage expenses of producing the sculpture, Carpeaux produced and sold reduced-scale versions of the central genius figure to try to raise some of the money back. It could be interesting to see if the students would consider this sculpture controversial today, and, if not, how far an artist might go today in depicting sexualized subjects in public. A discussion of the body and nudity would also work here, especially in terms of what was deemed “acceptable” in public sculpture. If they believe that nudity in public art is now “acceptable,” one might bring up Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant (1999), which caused some reaction against nudity in public when it was displayed in Trafalgar Square in 2005. ‡‡
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) is today seen as the preeminent sculptor at the turn of the century. As a Symbolist, Rodin often dealt with the thoughts, emotions, and sensations, evoked by his sculptures, in an intellectual and less obvious way than found in Romantic works from earlier in the century In 1875, Rodin visited Italy for the first time, and the works of Michelangelo in Florence and Rome inspired him; he also would have been familiar with Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave at the Louvre Museum in Paris. His first life-sized figure was his sculpture known as The Age of Bronze. It has formal similarities with Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, and was created in 1876 to be exhibited in the Salon of 1877. The original title of the work was Le Vaincu (The Vanquished), and other titles included L’Age d’airain (airain is a synonym for bronze, but it could also refer to brass or iron) and The Awakening of Mankind. These titles make reference to the defeated party of a war and to the metals used in the making of the first weapons used to kill people. The life-sized Age of Bronze, sculpted using a former soldier in the Franco-Prussian War as a model, was so realistic to viewers that Rodin was accused of making a “life cast,” or a cast in plaster taken directly from a live model. While life casts are used frequently today without issue, in the nineteenth century, the process of life casting was considered to be a form of cheating. A number of established academic sculptors came to Rodin’s defense, and eventually a bronze version was purchased for the state. Students could be prompted to argue whether they feel that life casting was in fact a form of cheating, or if it was simply a step in the process of realizing an artistic concept. The theme of the body and nudity can also be brought up here. In this case, Age of Bronze was not meant to be displayed in a park, street, cemetery, or as part of a building. Instead, the issue here was related to the possibility that Rodin took a plaster cast from an actual body. Thus, people were viewing a “real” body, as opposed to the artist’s interpretation of a model’s body. Students might be asked to discuss issues of naturalistic interpretations versus idealistic interpretations in the modern period.
Because the École des beaux-arts in Paris did not accept female students, Camille Claudel (1864–1943) studied sculpture with Alfred Boucher at the Académie Colorossi. She worked in the studio of Rodin beginning in 1884. Due to their relationship, her work is unfortunately too-often compared to his within sculpture scholarship; it is best to avoid such comparisons and focus on her work as advanced and individual. Claudel was often described as Rodin’s student, which limited her ability to move forward in her career. She also spent thirty years of her life in a mental institution; however, it is not useful or necessary to present her as a victim. Instead, discuss her use of exceptional materials, such as jade, onyx, and electricity (in the form of electric lights), and her mixture of them within specific works, both of which were very innovative for the time. One of her best-known works is the sculpture entitled The Waltz, which was begun c. 1889–90 and was produced in many versions through 1905. It existed in plaster, bronze, gilded bronze, and a now-lost oxidized stoneware version. As with the sculpture by Carpeaux discussed above, the subject of the dance was laced with sexual connotations; this was especially true with this group by Claudel, in which both figures were originally nude. At the time, the subject of the dance and the nudity of the figures were considered inappropriate themes for a female artist to undertake. She added the skirt-like drapery to the female figure to satisfy a request of the Minister of Fine Arts in the hopes that her commission for a marble version for the state would not be revoked. She saw the double standard in this, as most sculptures of nudes made by male artists were not rejected by the state. She was able to retain the commission, but she never completed the marble. The figures in The Waltz are intertwined and, like many of her sculptures, are full of movement, sinuous lines, and grace. Claudel began The Waltz in 1888, the year she met the composer Claude Debussy. Debussy received a cast of The Waltz that he kept on his mantelpiece, and his music may have been a source for the subject of the sculpture. Many Symbolists chose the theme of the dance as a representation of one’s movement through life (for example, Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life from 1899).
While Edgar Degas (1834–1917) is normally associated with the Impressionist movement, his sculpture entitled The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (1880) seems more closely related to Realism. Like sculptors before him, Degas was interested in the movement of figures in space in his sculptures. A young, scrappy dancing student from the Paris Opera (modeled by Marie van Goethem) stands in ballet’s fourth position before the viewer. The original wax version of this sculpture, complete with a wig, a silk hair ribbon, bodice, tutu, and slippers, was exhibited in the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881. This use of mixed media was a very modern concept, but viewers and critics criticized it, likening it to a voodoo doll and comparing it with the artist’s drawings of a criminal and with ideas of human degeneration, prompting Degas to remove it from the exhibition early. None of his other sculptures were exhibited during his lifetime, and all of the bronze casts of his work were made after his death. His sculptural work is now understood as avant-garde, and the sculpture is one of the best-known and best-loved sculptures of the nineteenth-century. There are currently twenty-eight known bronze casts of this sculpture in museums around the world.
After the death of the painter Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), the style of Realism continued strongly in the realm of sculpture. Images of working-class people involved in their usually grueling labor were the subject of these works. The Grand Peasant (1898–1902) by Jules Dalou (1838–1902) is an excellent example of Realism in sculpture. Rather than showing a perfectly well-built and idealized male figure, Dalou presents us with a tired-looking, yet dignified laborer. This work might have been placed at the top of Dalou’s Monument to Labor, begun in 1889 but never completed. Only the figure of the peasant was completed at life size; the rest of the monument only exists in small maquettes and studies. However, the sculpture may have also been conceived as work independent of the monument. It was shown at the Salon of the Société nationale des beaux-arts in 1902 in honor of Dalou, who had recently died. The heroism of the common man was beginning to take hold in this period. A comparison with The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer will help students visualize the image of the common worker and the presentation of different social classes (the workers versus who they are working for), and a comparison of The Grand Peasant with an image of a more traditional heroic figure, like Houdon’s George Washington, would certainly prompt interesting discussion on monuments and depictions of heroism.
Public sculpture commissions for streets, public squares, and cemeteries reached a high point at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States. One of the most prominent sculptors in America during this period was Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907). He created The Adams Memorial (1886–91) as a funerary monument dedicated to the wife of the writer Henry Adams. For Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams’s tomb, Saint-Gaudens combined the classical tradition in sculpture with an nod toward Buddhism, especially in the calm, spiritual, and meditative substance of the figure. Adams had visited Japan in 1886, the year after Clover’s death, accompanied by the artist John LaFarge. Adams instructed Saint-Gaudens to base his wife’s memorial on images of Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Michelangelo’s Sibyls on the Sistine Ceiling also inspired Saint-Gaudens. Stanford White designed the architectural portion of the monument, which includes a exedra bench in rose-colored granite; Saint-Gaudens and White worked on numerous projects together, including the Farragut Monument (1881) and the revolving finial depicting the goddess Diana for the second Madison Square Garden (1891–2). The seated figure on the Adams Memorial is androgynous and thus seems to come from a more spiritual realm. Deep thought, mystery, and emotion were themes in Symbolist art that Saint-Gaudens successfully captured in this monument. Students might be asked to compare this sculpture with John LaFarge’s The Great Statue of Amida Buddha at Kamakura (1886) or his Kuwannon Meditating on Human Life (c. 1886).
At the End of Class...
* Houdon: Setting up a comparison between Houdon’s George Washington and the Neoclassical work of the same subject by Horatio Greenough from 1840 would generate good discussion about “acceptable” and “unacceptable” presentations of a ruler. It would also show how long the Neoclassical trend persisted in the United States.
** Canova: Starting a dialog about Canova’s role in the repatriation of Italian art taken by the French could kindle a nice discussion of other issues of repatriation with students. For more detailed information on Canova’s repatriation campaign, see Christopher M.S. Johns, Antonio Canova and the Politics of Patronage in Revolutionary and Napoleonic Europe (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988).
*** Rude: Students might be asked to compare and contrast the Delacroix painting to the Rude sculpture in terms of context, composition, stylistic characteristics, and the politics of revolution and history of uprisings in France.
‡ Good comparisons on the theme of enslavement for students to make with the Greek Slave include Hosmer’s Zenobia in Chains; Raffaele Monti’s Circassian Slave (c. 1851); John Bell’s Andromeda (1851); and Bell’s American Slave (1853).
‡‡ A good discussion may arise from comparing Rude’s La Marseillaise with Carpeaux’s The Dance. Both are ascribed to the Romantic style, and Carpeaux was Rude’s student, but Carpeaux’s work also has a palpable link to Realism. There are also some compositional and formal similarities and differences. The issue of reproduction of large scale works into smaller, marketable bronzes and works in editions can also spark a discussion of the “original” in sculpture.