Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861 - French 1929)

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) was a French sculptor and pupil of Auguste Rodin. Born in Montauban, the birthplace of Ingres, his early inspiration in the arts came from his father a carpenter and cabinetmaker who encouraged his son to work sculptures from wood which later, at the age of only 15, won him a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse. Here he studied under Maurette, a sculptor, and worked mainly on portrait busts. He left for Paris in 1884.

In Paris, after some early success at the Salon des Artistes Francais in 1885 and the Exposition Universelle in 1889 and further study, he then worked with Jules Dalou and later as an assistant to Rodin between 1893 and 1908.

The essence of Boudelle’s work was romantic in subject (following a series of portrait busts and masques of Beethoven for example) and took its monumentality from both classical and medieval sources. He was keen to see sculpture return to its tradition outdoor and architectural settings.

In Rodin’s studio the two artists developed a relationship of mutual admiration. Bourdelle worked with the principals of traditional monumental sculptures and was eclectic in his choice of sources: sometimes Romantic and sometimes severe in manner as the archaic Greek pieces of antiquity. But the expressive energy so tangible in his Archer, c.1909, is bold and magnificent and gives Bourdelle a distinctive style of his own.

Bourdelle’s first great masterpiece was considered to be his publicly placed ‘Monument to the Defenders of Montauban’ in honour of their resistance during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. This piece fitted well, in timing, with the period favouring of public monuments and the use of sculpture in memorialising the newly established Third Republic. As a consequence, Bourdelle’s work being very popular and more monumental commissions followed ensuring that his own interest in outdoor, large scale sculpture was met and well received.

Bourdelle was also interested in the unity of sculpture with architecture, in the tradition of Michelangelo and the great Renaissance and Classical works before them. He used the Greek style of the Parthenon in his major commission to decorate the Champs Elysées, handling the subject of the dramatic arts through a fascinating representation of movement and energy suggestive of his renowned contemporary Maillol. His expressive use of line and the straining of the taut bodies depicted in this sculpture illustrate his deeply individual style and his personal interpretation of this eclectic collection of traditions.

The sculptor was honoured in 1924 as a commander of the Legion d’Honneur and his influence spread worldwide. He died outside Paris in 1929 and was celebrated with a major retrospective only two years later in Paris. The Musée Bourdelle was opened in Paris in 1949.

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle - Standing Woman, 1909
Standing Woman, 1909
Emile-Antoine Bourdelle - Italienne au Genoux, 1906
Italienne au Genoux, 1906
Emile-Antoine Bourdelle - La Maternité, 1893
La Maternité, 1893