• Édouard Nadaud Collection (1862-1928), Paris, and then by inheritance.
Son of a glove worker, Aimé Jules Dalou was noticed at a young age by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who enrolled him in 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 Franco-Prussian War of 1870 put an end to his young official career.
Very devoted to the Republic, the sculptor immediately volunteered for the army and then was active in the Commune, whereupon he was appointed by Gustave Courbet to be Curator at the Palace of the Louvre. Pursued by the government for his activities during the siege of Paris, the artist went into exile in England where he was warmly welcomed. He returned in 1880, after having been amnestied by President Jules Grevy. From then on, Dalou was increasingly successful with various Salon medals and many public and private commissions. The latter included the Triumph of the Republic commissioned by the municipality of Paris for the current Place de la Nation.
In 1889, the inauguration of the plaster model of this monument inspired Dalou’s desire to raise a monument in glorification of workers. For this project, the sculptor multiplied on-site drawings of Parisian construction sites and those he saw during his travels. These were followed by terracottas, first as studies of isolated figures done from a professional model, and then mock-ups of the whole group. While seeking a solution which would fully satisfy him, the artist did not divulge his undertaking to anyone. Furthermore he refused to participate with Rodin in the creation of a monument to workers imagined by Armand Dayot, Inspector of Fine Arts, for the Universal Exposition of 1900.
Several extant drawings and studies of this project have survived, including the Large Peasant, which on its own has evolved to become an independent work. The development of the sculptor’s thoughts can be traced today through terracottas and plasters bequeathed by his daughter to the Grand Palais. These consist of rapidly modeled clay sketches which seek the right gesture, followed by more elaborate studies depicting the peasant nude or clothed and which gradually get larger. Too large to be fired, the work was next reproduced in plaster and then in molded clay, and again in plaster.
The Large Peasant was exhibited at the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts in 1902 in homage to the sculptor who had just passed away. In order to assure a means of subsistence for his daughter, the executors of Dalou’s Testament organized a full scale edition in bronze and sandstone, as well as smaller versions in various sizes. The Large Peasant figures in the contract passed with the Susse Brothers Foundry on June 30, 1902.
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, cat. 235 (original plaster).
Maurice DREYFOUS, Dalou, sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, Laurens, 1903.
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.