• France, Private Collection
In 1840, after his training as a goldsmith, Albert-Ernest Carrier de Belleuse, called Carrier-Belleuse, was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the studio of the sculptor David d’Angers, but preferred the “Petite Ecole,” the future Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. Starting in 1850, he worked in England for the Minton ceramics factory where he stood out with his creation of statuettes of historic figures.
1850 was also the year which marked Carrier-Belleuse’s entry into the Parisian Salon. Back in France in 1855, he exhibited regularly there from 1857 until 1887, with only a single absence in 1876. Motivated by his Salon success, endowed with creative verve combined with organizational sense and incomparable entrepreneurship, the artist ran a vast workshop which brought together almost fifty practicing sculptors. Among the sculptors who got their start in Carrier-Belleuse’s studio, Rodin was unquestionably the most famous. Edouard Lockroy exclaimed in L’Artiste in 1865:
“It’s almost a sculpting machine… Every day busts, ornaments, statues, statuettes, bronzes, candelabras, caryatids flow out of his studio; bronze, marble, plaster, alabaster, he carves and shapes everything, digs into everything; but what spirit, imagination, verve this machine has!”
The sculptor received major commissions for public monuments in France and elsewhere, and participated in the sculpted decoration in Napoleon III’s grand Parisian construction projects: the Louvre, the the Tribune of Commerce, the Bank of France, and Paris Opera, where his candelabras still enliven the main staircase. The artist also executed almost two hundred busts which were appreciated for their realism and expressive power. As Director of Works of Art at the Sevres Manufactory from 1875 to 1887, he infused it with new stylistic impetus. With Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Bracquemont, Carrier-Belleuse was one of the instigators of the split in the 1889 Salon which led to the birth of the National Society of Fine Arts (la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts) the following year.
Carrier-Belleuse demonstrated lively interest in the human figure which was coupled with exceptional modeling talent and was expressed in his allegorical busts, as well as his historic and intimate portraits. This “Second Empire Clodion” marvelously mastered working clay in the pure tradition of 18th century terracottas. Far from seeking ideal features, the sculptor was committed to rendering the variety of personalities and character expression in a manner which was discreetly stamped with that of his master David d’Angers.
Eve or Ceres, Water Flower, May Flower, and Evening Rose, Winter, Spring… the names of terracotta busts figuring in old sales sometimes dissimulate a flesh and blood character, such as the sculptor’s muse, Marguerite Bellanger, and sometimes a simple studio model inspiring an allegory of feminity. Within this plethoric production, Oriental names are rare. Maybe our bust is a variation of that of Aïcha, which figures in the Carrier-Belleuse Sale on December 18th, 1883 (no. 62, terracotta, 75 cm. / 29 ½ in.). According to the signature, our bust was made after 1868: to avoid all confusion with the painter Carrier, the sculptor abandoned his CARRIER signature at this time in favor of CARRIER-BELLEUSE.
With rare freedom, Carrier-Belleuse models a young woman here with a radiant face lit by a light smile which allows her teeth to show. The vivacity of his touch is that of an initial study from the model. The artist combines Rubensian sensuality with a light gracefulness borrowed from the 18th century. Silver coins have been slipped between her thick abundant curls, while a heavy lock falls over her shoulder above a half exposed breast. This type of lock can be seen in the Bust of a Woman Wearing a Diadem. The young woman wears a delicately worked tasseled Fez. This head covering which appeared in the 19th century Ottoman Empires was traditionally worn by men. Here the sculptor is displaying a French Orientalism which is more of a dream than it is documentary. In contrast with the diaphanous skin where the marks from the tool’s scoring are barely perceptible, the young woman’s attire is richly ornamented in keeping with the artist’s past as a silver and gold smith. The bolero’s damasked fabric is embellished with a large ribbon with geometric designs. Below the light veil of the corsage, a delicately chiseled pearl and cabochon belt supports the bosom. As is usual with Carrier-Belleuse, this minute attention to decorative detail acts as precious counterpoint to the smooth polished beauty of the face.
Several versions of our bust conserved in private collections are known. Although all are conceived along the same principle which attests to a single easily identifiable model, the sculptor freely varied details. Thus, as opposed to ours, the women in the other versions wear necklaces which vary from one terracotta to another. Several Oriental enameled ceramic busts were produced after these terracottas.
Carrier-Belleuse assiduously did drawings in preparation for his sculptures, but he also produced some which were independent of any three-dimensional work. The Orient inspired him, for example, for a pastel, Young Oriental Woman with a Candle (pastel on cardboard, 106 x 73 cm. / 3 ft. 8 3/16 in. x 2 ft. 4 ¾ in., Marc-Arthur Kohn sale, December 28, 2002, no. 151.)
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
June Ellen HARGROVE, Carrier-Belleuse, le maître de Rodin, exhibition catalogue, Compiègne, Musées et domaines nationaux, Paris, RMN, 2014.
June Ellen HARGROVE, The life and work of Albert Carrier-Belleuse, Ph.D. Dissertation, New-York University, New-York, Garland, 1977.
Catalogue des œuvres originales [...] composant l’œuvre de Carrier-Belleuse, Post-mortem Sale, Hôtel Drouot, December 19-23, 1887.
Willem BÜRGER, Salon de 1861, Paris, s.n., 1861.