Ary Jean Bitter’s father, a salesman, noticed his son’s talent and enrolled him in the School of Fine Arts in 1895, in Emile Aldebert’s class. In 1902, the young artist won the triennial contest and a scholarship from the City of Marseille to continue his education at the National School of Fine Arts. He first worked in Ernest Louis Barrias’ studio, and then in that of Jules Coutan (1848-1939). Present in the Salon of French Artists starting in 1910, Bitter received many medals – silver for Bacchus in 1921, then a gold for a marble Diana in 1924 – and won several competitions, but did not succeed in carrying off the highly coveted Prix de Rome despite many attempts.
After the war, the sculptor received many commissions from the State, including the decoration of the monumental stairway for the Saint Charles Train Station in Marseille, and signed publishing contracts with the Susse Foundries (29 works published) and Les Neveux de Jules Lehmann Foundry (16 works), as well as with the National Manufacture of Sevres.
Although our terracotta is quite removed from Bitter’s usual repertory in which he reserved small sizes for young female nudes and faun children playing with animals, it most likely can be related to this particularly prolific period in his career. Passionately modeled, the sculpture shows a boy attired in 17th century costume easily riding a powerful muscular horse which is brilliantly rendered – Bitter was known for his animal sculptures. The young prince proudly carries a hooded falcon in his gloved fist, and holds the reins with his right hand in a pose reminiscent of Jean Isigny’s Equestrian Portrait of Louis XIV as a Child Leaving for the Hunt, conserved at Chantilly. Nonetheless, more than the barely legible autograph title inscribed by the artist himself in the still damp clay, the high collar makes it possible to identify the figure as Louis XIII rather than his son.
Present in the majority of images of Henri IV’s heir, from those by François Pourbus to Pieter Paul Rubens, and including the engravings of Léonard Gaultier, the high folded back collar also appears in the full length standing portrait of Louis XIII by François Rude in 1842. Its bronze version cast by Barbedienne was a sensation at the 1878 World’s Fair (Dijon, Museum of Fine Arts). Although Bitter may not have not had the chance to see this work, conserved in the Luynes family, he certainly knew Barbedienne’s elegant statuette for Rude’s nephew, Emmanuel Frémiet, which was exhibited in the 1902 Salon and broadly diffused. Our terracotta seems to be a kind of modern response to Frémiet’s oeuvre, characteristic of 19th century history sculpture with its abundance of finely worked details.
Here, historic exactitude gives way to movement which does not seek to be natural, but rather obeys an internal rhythm, and thus gives an impression of dance characteristic of Art Deco. At the same time, the unstable composition and visible modeling distances our terracotta from Bitter’s marbles and bronzes with their smooth surfaces and graphic balanced organization. Instead, this Louis XIII as a Child is very close to ten terracottas of very similar size produced by the artist in 1938 for the Hector Berlioz Museum in La Côte-Saint-André which have the composer’s works as their subjects: The Trojans, The Damnation of Faust, and Romeo and Juliette. This fact makes it possible not just to date our sculpture to the same period, but also to consider it as a finished work rather than a preparatory sketch for a more finished bronze casting. This aesthetic of a sketch which leaves the sculptor’s craft, hand, and imagination visible was new in Bitter’s art, and made it possible for him to reinvent historic sculpture which had fallen into disuse since the revolution of Art Nouveau.