Friday, September 29, 2006

Modern Tendencies in Sculpture

Francois Rude

Following the esteemed Sir G's example, this is the post of a "guest blogger" -- in this case, the dean of Chicago sculptors, Lorado Taft (1860-1936)

In 1920, he published a set of lectures under the title of "Modern tendencies in sculpture" - and perhaps the fact that "modern" modifies "tendencies" instead of "sculpture" should warn the reader that this will not be a typical survey of modernism in the arts.

For me, it best serves as an introduction to the kind of sculpture that Taft liked best -- the kind that he emulated when he studied in Paris -- the kind that set the standard for his work and teaching.

Some of them are still famous -- and some have fallen into almost total obscurity.

When it came to providing picture examples in his book -- this section was only illustrated with the things he hated -- Matisse etc -- so I had to dig up pictures for the rest - where possible.

So ... sit back .. and let the old man give his lecture. He would have been about 60 at the time -- at the peak of his career -- as both a public sculptor and academic authority at the University of Chicago.

All the following words are his (my response will come in the comments that follow)



The subject of our last causerie was Auguste Rodin. “Rodin and His Influence” had been the intended theme, but it soon.developed that there was so much to be said about Rodin and his work that the influence had to be left for another day. It will form a part of the inquiry of this chapter, as indeed it must run through all of these papers excepting the one devoted to Saint- Gaudens; I cannot find that the art of our great American sculptor was touched in the slightest degree by that of the French master.

Of course M. Rodin’s independent and very personal point of view has not been the only influence at work during these later years. Whatever the immediate trend of French sculpture, the dominant fact is the momentum of an age-long tradition. This tradition had, become in great measure academic; but, as Brownell wrote of the French school of twenty-five years ago, “It is a thoroughly legitimate and unaffected expression of national thought and feeling at the present time, at once splendid and simple.”

Every now and then through the years the current has been shaken and then reinforced by some powerful influence-“ an angel has troubled the waters.” In the the first half of the nineteenth century it was the towering “ personality of Rude; a little later it was Carpeaux then Dalou; then Rodin. The part that each of these men has played is clearly marked, although not yet complete. The stream of sculpture is tinged ever after by their contribution as distinctly as the Mississippi is colored from St. Louis onward by the waters of the Missouri.

To appreciate what Rodin did to it one must have a definite idea of what it was before. A few minutes of retrospect will be valuable. What has been the trend of sculpture in France? What the impress of these great artists upon its course? To go back no farther than the memory of men still alive, there is always the heroic figure of Rude beckoning to high achievement through his triumphant work on the Arc de Triomphe, “The Song of Departure.” (Pictured at the top)

Of this great relief it has been eloquently said:

“No one can have any appreciation of what sculpture is “Without perceiving that this magnificent group easily and serenely takes its rank among the masterpieces of sculpture of all time. It is, in the’ first place, the incarnation of an abstraction, the spirit of patriotism aroused to the highest pitch of warlike intensity and self-sacrifice, and in the second this abstract motive is expressed in the most elaborate and comprehensive completeness with a combined intricacy of detail and singleness of effect which must be the despair of any but a master in Sculpture.”
The Departure” has become a classic, but it is too exalted, too exceptional, to influence deeply the everyday output of Parisian studios. The graceful “Neapolitan Fisher Boy” and even the vehement “Marshal Ney” have been more obviously potent.

Rude’s immediate spiritual heritor was: his pupil) Carpeaux, whose feverish temperament drove him to an eternal quest of life and movement. With alluring charm and incredible skill he pushed his art to what seemed at the time absolute realism. In principle wrong, the manifestation was so seductive that against their better judgment the critics were silenced. At least, no one heeded thejr criticisms. In the face of these irresistible works they but wasted their ink and paper. Carpeaux left us treasures of passionate expression; it was the little, cold-blooded would-be Carpeaux’s of a second generation who have torn Parisian monumental art to shreds. One of Rodin’s fervid biographers tells us that the master’s “immediate forerunners recognized only one form of beauty, an insipid, affected, inanimate prettiness of which the renowned Bouguereau was the last successful representative in pictorial art.” This characterization might have applied to much of the sculpture of a hundred years ago but hardly to that of the second half of the nineteenth century. You may judge whether such terms describe the art of Carpeaux. Let us turn to a few more of the immediate forerunners of the master that we may” see how “ insipid, affected, and inanimate” they are. Look upon Paul Dubois’ “Charity” an achievement which even the wizardry of Rodin does not put in the shade.

Paul Dubois "Charity"

Paul Dubois "Military Courage"

View his “Military Courage” and the exquisitely tender figure of” Faith.” Consider the vivid and truly sculptural conception of ” Joan of Arc” by Chapu.

Chapu "Joan of Arc"

Study “The First Funeral” by Barrias) once recognized as the masterpiece of modern French sculpture.

Barrias "First Funeral"

What of inanimate prettiness does one find in Saint Marceaux' "Genius of Death"?


Other favorites of forty years ago were the rugged "Age of Iron" by Lanson, Aube's dramatic "Dante,"

Aube "Dante"

and the sternly simple "Ancestor" by Massoule. Mercie's "Gloria Victis" holds secure sway amid remembered enthusiasms,

Mercie "Gloria Victis"

Mercie "David D'Apres le Combat"

while one noble female form seems to float above them all-the radiant "Aurora" of Delaplanche.

Delaplance ("Eve after the Fall")

You can imagine the emotions of a wistful artist returning to the scene of these early loves to find them replaced by strange gods like this foolish caricature of a woman (Fig. 51). It is a work by the notorious painter, Matisse. You see he is quite as good a sculptor as he is painter! They tell us no female is so queer that she cannot find a companion, if she tries; it is gratifying to, observe that Matisse's ideal has an affinity (Fig. 53). No, a second look discovers that they are both of the same kind. Unfortunately these nondescripts do love and propagate; here is a chaste "Kiss" by Brancusi, (Fig. 62); and here is "Family Life" by Archipenko (Fig. 61). Brancusi was the author of the far-famed "Mile Pogany" (Fig. 59), which, we are assured, is "not a servile reproduction of features," but an interpretation of the soul. Perhaps its companion (Fig. 60) is Miss Pogany's sister's soul, although, it has been called "The Mislaid Egg."

For mischief or through sheer imbecility many unsuccessful sculptors turned to this form of prostitution. One of these deluded youths was Gaudier-Brzeska, who was later killed in the trenches. An American poet wrote a eulogistic book about him and gravely presents his infantile products for our respectful consideration (figs. 55-58). We are unsmilingly assured that such objects show forth "the fundamental verities"; that "representation" is naive and childish, but that these geometrical forms are "the expression of a pure idea-the expression of the absolute."

Gaudier's "Seated Figure" (Fig. 55) recalls the impassioned description of a similar amorphous mass, words written by a hypnotized votary: "There is a swell of volume in all directions and which to a sensitive and patient attention produces a sense of freedom and a sense of power that comes out from within." No doubt a little patient and sensitive attention, would likewise discover "a flat submerged plasticity" of incalculable value. Another sentence from the same authority is so wonderful that it insists upon use as a high light in this drab essay of mine: "The whole is like a growth of nature and like within a single sweep of tight contours which enclose the greatest possible plasticity within the smallest compass." In the presence of such mysteries of thought and diction one can but bow and reverently withdraw.

Figures 51-54

Figures 55-58

Footnote: The men who produced these last mentioned curiosities are presumably aliens in France, but their so-called art was incubated and brought forth in Paris througb the hospitality of a public which is ever seeking “some new thing.” The information obtainable in regard to their shadowy personalities is so slight and so contradictory that some have been tempted to believe them fictitious-a syndicate, or possibly a “Mr, Hyde” manifestation of some perfectly reputable artist. What sculptor has not cherished for a moment the wild wish to exhibit, under a pseudonym, the startling abortions or easily sketched grotesques which appear and disappear in the daily routine of the studio?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Aesthetes of Chicago

Diane Rath

I spent last Saturday working on my new blog (as if I needed another opportunity to waste time) -- this one co-authored by Stuart Fullerton (who got me into blogging in the first place) and dedicated to our art club, the Palette and Chisel .

Romel De La Torre

For the past month, we'd been researching the club's golden years -- 1900-1940 -- back when many of the area's most prominent artists were members.

But last Saturday was spent in the 21st Century -- going to each member's web site and pulling off examples that I found most attractive. (like the two shown above)

It was a very enjoyable experience -- because -- like the Oak Park potters shown last month -- these people are not artists in the modern sense of that word. They are not trying to push the boundaries of what can be called 'art' -- they are not trying to be "of their own time" -- they're just trying to show how their world (of people-land-flowers-urban spaces) is beautiful -- which requires art -- but not with the capital "A".

Scott (Tallman) Powers

Does any of it belong in art museums ?

Maybe -- though it's really hard -- maybe impossible for me to dissociate a painting from the person who made it (and I know all these people). Every painting -- like every person -- seems like a unique, irreplaceable component of the world.

I don't think anything here like, for example Thomas Lawrence's portrait of Mrs. Wolff needs to be on permanent display at the Art Institute.

But most of what hangs on the walls of any America museum could just as well be exchanged with what's in their basement -- just as the Art Institute has always rotated its collection of Asian prints and paintings.

Many things are here that should rotate in and out of museum galleries -- and those galleries would be richer for it.

Mary Qian

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The lips of "realistic" sculpture

In response to the above photos , a sculptor/critic wrote:

1) My belief is that if we set ourselves up to be Realistic sculptors then we will come under a higher standard when we are viewed by our peers. There are technical issues with the three busts I see on your website. Curve of the eye, shape of the nostril and that sort of stuff. I won’t bother with that because by now you already see those things.

2) Sculpture is all about the play of light and shadow. See the picture of the female, look at the way the light plays on her lips and the intersection between the lips and cheek. On the lower lip do you see the fat pads next to the corners of the mouth…there is also a second roll of flesh between the line that forms the cheek and the line that forms the chin. These details probably didn\’t exist in the extreme way the sculptor expressed them but they brought life to the piece. The way this sculptor treated the eyes are the most important thing for you to observe. The eyes are set back into their sockets to create a shadow line then the eyelids are brought out to catch the light…it\’s amazing what this does. Look at the Burghers of Calais….the upper eyelids are like hubcaps.

But then .... here are some other examples across history:

Portrait of Queen Tiye, c. 1350 BC

Franceso Laurana, c. 1480

Jean-Antoine Houdon, c. 1780

Charles Despiau, c. 1910

Milton Horn, c. 1945

So it appears to me ... that sometimes portraits show fat pads near the corner of the mouth -- and sometimes they don't. And sometimes there's a second roll of flesh between the cheek and the chin .. and sometimes there's not..... at least, in the portrait sculpture that has found a place in the canon of world art (note: Milton Horn is a bit tangential to that canon --- but I like to look at him anyway)

I'm raising this issue -- because as non-contemporary figure sculpture is slowly returning to educational institutions, it's important to let the full history of great sculpture set the standards --- or --- if a teacher/school/critic is going to focus on the 19th C. Beaux Arts tradition -- then it should be identified as such.

More importantly, I don't think that, outside museums of natural history, anatomical accuracy has any place in the critique of sculpture. That beaux-arts head shown above is beautiful/memorable not just because it has fat pads at the corners of the mouth, but because it has composed those elements into an expressive, poignant unity.

I enjoy many examples of the Beaux-arts style -- and can't blame anyone for promoting the style that they love -- but everyone else should remember that specific philosophies/feelings/attitudes are presented by specific styles --- not all female faces need to express discreet sensuality -- and a discussion of anatomical accuracy is beside the point.

And the point I'd like to make about Amanda Sisk's portraits of the young, married couple, is that they're beautiful -- expressing, at least to me, a kind of clearsighted, determined optimism of young people on the threshold of life-- and while I haven't made a comparative study of similar subjects done around the world -- this couple does seem particularly midwestern -- and maybe they should be displayed lying side-by-side (as in the photograph at the very top ) -- like lovers on a beach at night -- looking up at the stars.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dutch Galleries

Marlies Heylmann

Thanks to Amanda Sisk I've discovered yet another Dutch gallery that specializes in non-contemporary figure sculpture.

Maite Duval

Peter Oerftemeyer

Jan De Graaf

Peter Oerftemeyer

Erwin Meijer

Maite Duval

Lotta Blokker

This is the one to which Amanda links from her site -- and I guess I don't share her enthusiasm for it.

But like the others, it does seem to be emerging from the goofy or depressing or ironic or creepy or despairing that contemporary art requires from figure sculpture.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lorenzo Dominguez

The poet, Ramponi

Another gift from the internet -- the son of Lorenzo Dominguez (1901-1963) showed me the website the family made for his father -- cataloging all the work made in Chile, Spain, and finally Argentina.

Father Sebastian from Easter Island

His portraits are what blow me away -- so simple -- so different -- so expressive -- reminding me of the great Japanese portraits of the 14th Century -- as if there were an interior life that was bursting outward to become the features of a face, rather than an attempt to copy what a person looks like.

Professor Lipshultz

Whether of specific people like the ones above

Prim Young Lady


Santa Olalla

Or types of people

I also think he did a very strong crucifix (this one was cast in bronze 25 years after it was modeled)

I'm less enthusiastic about his female nudes -- he gives them such heavy feet !
But this one is my favorite.

(I get the feeling that he was one epiphany away from becoming a priest)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sculpture quick sketch

I was looking at the Xugu paintings again at the museum tonight (how I'll miss them when they come down next month!) -- and I realized that what I especially like about them ----- is also what I like about this sculpture quick-sketch that Sterett-Gittings Kelsey sent me a few days ago.

Sterett and Xugu were born about 10,000 miles and 100 years apart -- but both of them spent their lives mastering a specific visual language -- so in their maturity, everything just seems to come so easy for them.

Like an impulsive gesture - that is instantly fit into a congenial space

How many plum trees has Xugu painted ? How many dancers has Sterett modeled ?

"With wanton heed, and giddy cunning, The melting voice through mazes running; Untwisting all the chains that tie The hidden soul of harmony"