TWO BOURDELLES AT THE KING OF COSMETICS
A treasure hunt begun in curator Peter Fusco's files at the J. Paul Getty Museum (Sculpture department) in Los Angeles took me all the way to the mansion of the cosmectics magnate Carl Weeks in Des Moines, Iowa. There I found the two busts by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Head of Apollo and Rodin, that I had read about in Los Angeles. I am happy to thank J. Eric Smith, director, Leo Landis and Megan Stout Sibbel, at Salisbury House, for their help.
Carl Weeks (1876-1962) established the Armand Company in 1916. He selected ‘Armand’ to give the company a French sounding name and used Louis XVI imagery in his early packaging and advertising. Presumably he was hoping that some French cachet would rub off on the product line. By 1927 it was the leading seller of face powder in the United States and, with revenues of $2.5 million, had an annual income exceeding that of either Elizabeth Arden or Helena Rubinstein at the time.
Between 1923 and 1928, Carl Weeks and his wife Edith Van Slyke, who had studied art in Paris, had a big mansion built in Des Moines after Kings House in Salisbury, England, and named it Salisbury House. They gathered an important art collection and a rare books library with many original editions, notably books banned in the US when they were first published such as James Joyce's Ulysses or D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. It is in this collection that the two bronzes by Bourdelle, acquired directly in France by Carl and Edith Weeks, are kept.
Annie BARBERA, Head of the Archives at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris, kindly accepted to put them into Bourdelle's career context (graciously translated by Gina GRANGER, Detroit).
Laure de Margerie
January 6, 2014
sources: Internet, especially: cosmeticsandskin.com and salisburyhouse.org
ÉMILE-ANTOINE BOURDELLE AND HIS PARIS EXHIBITIONS, 1928 AND 1929
In 1928 and 1929 several exhibitions of the sculpture of Émile-Antoine Bourdelle succeeded each other at a sustained rhythm. The largest of these exhibitions was mounted at the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels (November 3, 1928 – January 3, 1929).
During these same years, the Danthon Gallery in Paris mounted two monographic exhibitions of the artist’s work.
The first of these (June 1-30, 1928) consisted of 72 bronzes, of somewhat reduced dimensions, that represented Bourdelle’s oeuvre in all its diversity, as well as a group of drawings that was not included in the exhibition catalogue.
The critical and public success of this exhibition, as well as the recognition Bourdelle’s talent received in Brussels, very likely led to the mounting of a second exhibition at the Danthon Gallery (May 4–June 15, 1929). This exhibition was primarily devoted to Bourdelle’s monumental sculpture dedicated to the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, unveiled in the Place de l’Alma, Paris, on April 28, 1929.
Although the catalogue published for the exhibition does not mention the works exhibited and reproduces only 16 sculptures (in addition to fragments of, and a model for, the Mickiewicz monument), the Danthon Gallery was showing approximately 60 bronzes cast by the founder, Alexis Rudier, and a series of drawings. The success of this exhibition, and its high praise in both the French and American press, led to its extension until mid-July 1929. Taking advantage of the international recognition of Bourdelle’s oeuvre that resulted from the exhibition in Brussels and the unveiling of the monument dedicated to Mickiewicz in Paris, the Danthon Gallery had arranged an exhibition that would arouse renewed interest in the work of Bourdelle, especially in the United States, where a major exhibition of the sculptor’s work had not taken place since 1925. An English translation of the exhibition catalogue, added to the end of the French version, announced that the current exhibition would travel to the Rosenbach Gallery in New York and later (with a reduced number of works) to a site in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1929.
A letter, dated 14 January 1929, from Gustave Danthon to the founder Rudier, now in the Bourdelle archive, reveals unequivocally the strategy behind the 1929 travelling exhibition, whose framework had been established for two years, and which closely linked the artist, the founder, and the dealer. In his letter Danthon expresses his wish and intention of developing a clientele for Bourdelle’s work in the United States (“in order to create and develop in America a strong interest in favor of the work of the master, Bourdelle”). Towards this end, he decided “to send Monsieur Stern to the United States with the mission of visiting major cities on the east coast and to confer with museums, dealers, and personal acquaintances of Monsieur Stern and myself.” Bourdelle provided M. Stern with photographs of his sculptures as well as pieces that were ready to be sold. Regarding the price of these bronzes and the terms of sale, Bourdelle would be paid a fixed “base price” for each piece sold by the Danthon Gallery, moreover, no bronze could be sold by Bourdelle or Rudier at a price that was lower than double that of the base price. The gallery retained relatively exclusive control over the sale of works during its Paris exhibition. Furthermore, M. Danthon stated that in order to facilitate sales in America, it would be convenient for Rudier to set aside original proofs, or first and second editions [of Bourdelle’s sculptures in bronze] because these would not be subject to the same customs duty as subsequent editions, for which the customs duty would be adjusted at 20 to 80 per cent of their value. This group of bronzes represented major as well as emblematic works by the artist: Hercules the Archer, Woman Sculptor in Repose, Bacchante, Head of Apollo, Fruit, Penelope, Portrait Bust of Rodin, Virgin with Child.
In the context of these various events of 1929, which brought important examples of Bourdelle’s oeuvre to the United States, the American collectors, Carl and Edith Weeks acquired two of the artist’s bronzes, Head of Apollo, definitive version on a large base (1898-1909) and Head of Rodin (1909).These acquisitions are now on exhibit at the Weeks’s former home, Salisbury House and Garden in Des Moines, Iowa.
Head of Apollo, definitive version on a large base (1898-1909)
Bourdelle’s strong, willful expression of the face of the god of the sun is the result of a lengthy creative exploration that began in 1898 with a study titled Apollo’s Mask (Masque d’Apollon), for which an Italian youth served as model. This study was put aside and nearly forgotten until Bourdelle found it in a damaged state in one of his studios, around 1900, at which point he resumed work on the head of Apollo by creating his first plaster version of the masque, in which he retained the crackled and fragile condition of the original. This study in plaster was dedicated and offered to his friend Auguste Rodin, in whose studio Bourdelle worked as an assistant. At this time Bourdelle began to distance himself from the influence of Rodin, for whom he continued to have a profound admiration. Bourdelle produced several versions of the head of Apollo: one with a neck but no base (a corresponding figure in bronze was exhibited in the Armory Show in New York in 1913) and another figure with neck and base, and eventually a head, completed in 1909, which the artist named his “definitive” version and placed on a faceted base. In 1925 Bourdelle produced a final head of Apollo, which he based on his “definitive” version and placed on a more modest base. This piece was titled Tête d’Apollon, sans grande base et sans cou (Head of Apollo, without large base and without neck).
Colin Lemoine describes the 1909 head of Apollo thusly, “The visage, conceived as a uniform ensemble of facets, rests on a remarkable prismatic base that reinforces the sense of geometric construction. The multiple surfaces and salient transitions cause the viewer to interpret the work as resulting from an intellectual and syncretic reconstruction, in the manner of cubist compositions.” Shortly before his death, twenty years later, in a document titled Apollon au combat (Apollo’s Battle), Bourdelle describes his masterpiece of 1909 as “unquiet, austere, synthetic, free of the past and all features that are not contemporary.” He considered his 1909 head of Apollo to be one of his best sculptures, attributing to it alone the “combat” (battle) he conducted in reaction to the influence of Rodin by utilizing his own personal experience with the purpose of placing his sculptural output on a singular path with a modern perspective. He writes, “I escaped from the hole of accidental effects in order to seek permanent effects. I sought the essentials of form, giving secondary consideration to the passing waves, and, in addition, I searched for a universal rhythm.”
Head of Rodin (1909)
This portrait is a variation of a bust of Auguste Rodin from 1909, which carried the inscription, “au Maître Rodin ces profils rassemblés,” which roughly translates, “To Master Rodin, these reassembled profiles.” This piece was conceived in 1908, shortly after Bourdelle left Rodin’s studio, in which he had worked as an assistant for 15 years. Exhibited in 1910 at the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts (Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts), this bust disconcerted the critics, most of whom judged it to be a caricature of the Master, truly irreverent, as it had displeased the model himself, who had, in an exceptional move, posed for his disciple.
The massive and robust head and the highly stylized physiognomy of Rodin are not indicative of a derisive intention on the part of Bourdelle, rather they express a desire not to displease, but instead to transcribe “ that which Bourdelle conscientiously considered [a truthful representation] of the physiognomy and the inner life of Rodin”. The faun-like head and the long folds of the thick beard bring to mind images of the god Pan in Greek mythology, as well as Michelangelo Buonaroti’s statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, two precedents by which Bourdelle pays homage to the elder sculptor. The construction of the face by an assemblage of profiles, which precisely links Bourdelle to Rodin, is combined, in this portrait, with an accentuated geometrization of volumes, a combination which expresses the artist’s definitive estrangement from his master’s aesthetic.
Archivist, Head of the Archives
Musée Bourdelle, Paris
graciously translated by Gina Granger, Detroit
1. Anne-Charlotte Cathlineau, Les expositions d’Émile-Antoine Bourdelle (1884-1929) : rapport de stage, musée Bourdelle, 2006.
2. Letter to Rudier, dated January 14, 1929, and signed, “for Monsieur Danthon, Lionel Berg[er].”
3. Colin Lemoine, Antoine Bourdelle 1861-1929. D’un siècle l’autre : l’eurythmie de la modernité, Tokyo, Brain Trust Inc.; Paris, musée Bourdelle, 2007, p.197.
4. Regarding the genesis of this work, see also Antoinette Le Normand-Romain’s detailed study, « La Tête d’Apollon, la cause de divorce entre Rodin et Bourdelle », La Revue du Louvre, 3-1990.
5. Véronique Gautherin, « Rodin vu par Bourdelle, les éléments d’une interprétation », La Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, 2-2001.
1. Emile-Antoine BOURDELLE, Head of Apollo, Des Moines, Salisbury House (ph. © Salisbury House, Des Moines)
2. Emile-Antoine BOURDELLE, Bust of Auguste Rodin, Des Moines, Salisbury House (ph. © Salisbury House, Des Moines)
3. Armand's cold cream advertisement, 1927 (ph. cosmeticsandskin)
4. Salisbury House, Des Moines, Iowa (ph. Salisbury House)
5. Edith and Carl Weeks (ph. encyclopediadubuque, Creative Commons)
6 and 7. Catalogue for the Exposition des oeuvres de Bourdelle, Paris, Galerie Danthon, 4 May-15 June, 1929 (ph. Musée Bourdelle, Paris)
8. BOURDELLE's Apollo Head on Salisbury House's terrace wall, Des Moines, pre-1955 photograph (ph. Salisbury House)
9. BOURDELLE's Bust of Rodin in a living-room at Salisbury House, Des Moines, pre-1955 photograph (ph. Salisbury House)