• France, Private Collection.
Current location of the original terracotta unknown.
A plaster with patina with an unknown provenance entered the Petit Palais collections before 1906 (H. 47 cm./18 ½ in. inv. PPS00358.)
Another plaster with patina was given to the Louvre in 1906 by the daughter of the moulder Bertault (Orsay Museum, RF 1891.)
A large bronze edition, contract between Hébrard and heirs of Dalou, May 10th, 1906, no 30 (as “Head of a River”, 4th category.)
Biscuit-ware edition by Sèvres manufactory.
Son of a glove worker, Aimé Jules Dalou was noticed at a young age by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who committed him to entering the Petite Ecole (“Little School”) in 1852 and kept close track of his education. Two years later, Dalou joined Duret’s studio at the School of Fine Arts, but throughout his life considered Carpeaux his master. The young sculptor suffered under academic teaching at the Fine Arts School and quit very rapidly. He would, some thirty years later, refuse a professorial position which was offered to him there.
The beginnings of this sensitive young man who was lacking self-confidence were laborious. After four failures to win the Prix de Rome (1861 to 1865), he decided to live off of decorative sculpture, and produced models for a commercial bronze manufacturer. He subsequently worked for the Favière gold-and-silver smiths and the interior decorator, Lefèvre. Dalou produced large decorative works for the mansion of the Marchionness of Païva and the Hôtel Menier.
Jules Dalou met with his first success at the 1870 Salon with an Embroiderer. The State commissioned a marble version from him, but the Commune made it impossible for him to finish the undertaking. Instead the artist, his wife, and daughter took exile in England where he was warmly welcomed and stayed for ten years. Upon his definitive return to Paris in 1880, Dalou’s success steadily increased with various Salon medals and a multitude of private and public commissions.
In 1890, Marguerite de Rothschild, Duchess of Gramont, who had known Dalou in London, commissioned a marble group from him to embellish the ornamental pool in her private mansion on the rue de Chaillot. The sculpture was presented at the National Society of Fine Arts exhibition in 1892 (no 1483), under the title The Espousal, but Dalou himself identified it as Crossing the Rhine. In fact, the artist associated two events connected to the story of the Gramont couple and their ancestors. On the one hand, the crossing of the Rhine by Armand de Gramont, Count of Guiche, who swam across during the war with Holland in 1672, and on the other, the symbolic crossing by Marguerite de Rothschild who came from Frankfort to join her future spouse.
The marble sculpture depicted a vigorous male nude lifting an equally nude woman in his arms, so as to carry her across the river. The latter was depicted as a male figure with a long beard and reeds in the place of hair. Although shoved behind the couple’s feet, the river god nonetheless attracted everyone’s attention. It was qualified by Maurice Dreyfous as a “first-class piece.” When the Gramont mansion was destroyed, Dalou’s sculpture went to the park of the Château de Vallière, built for Duke Agénor de Gramont at Mortefontaine in Oise.
When the artist died, the original preliminary terracotta sketch for the couple in Crossing the Rhine which belonged to Charles Auzoux, friend and executor of Dalou’s will, was produced in bronze by the Hébrard foundry. In 1907, through the intermediary of the moulder Bertault, a plaster version entered the Petit Palais Museum, where the contents of the master’s studio were conserved.
It joined the full scale preparatory plaster of the river god which was treated like a bust with a square base. The previous year, the river god plaster had been produced in bronze by Hébrard, in accordance with the contract made with the artist’s heirs. It is not known how many examples were cast, but the locations of only two bronzes, including ours, are known today. Apparently, the complexity of casting this Head which is evident in the cracks and irregularities in the material prevented the intended reproduction, a fact which makes our work even more exceptional.
The sculpture is completely independent and finished. It is a powerful fascinating head, with concentrated tension and Dantesque expressivity in keeping with great Baroque and Antique statuary. The green patina chosen by Hébrard for our example – the second known version had a brown patina – emphasizes the casting accidents and gives it the character of an archaeological discovery without diminishing any of its incredible modernity.
M.B. & A.Z.
Bibliography of the Work
Amélie SIMIER and Marine KISIEL, Jules Dalou, le sculpteur de la République. Catalogue des sculptures de Jules Dalou conservées au Petit Palais, Paris, Museums, 2013, p. 433, cat. 357 (plaster with patina).
Maurice DREYFOUS, Dalou, sa vie et son œuvre, Paris, Laurens, 1903, p. 198.
Stanislas LAMI, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’école française au XIXe siècle, Paris, 1914, vol. II.
Pierre KJELLBERG, Les Bronzes du XIXe siècle. Dictionnaire des sculpteurs, Paris, 1989.
Caroline CORBEAU-PARSONS et al, Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904, exh. cat. London, Tate Britain, 2017, pp. 145-170.