Although Jules Dalou is mainly remembered for the majestic vigor of his Triumph of the Republic and the breadth of his Monument to Workers, the more intimate work which he devoted to the female figure merits equally close attention.
The female nude, in fact, was one of Dalou’s favourite subjects, and bathers constitute one of the main subgroups of his oeuvre. As vibrant direct studies, these little free-standing figures never left the sculptor’s studio. Never exhibited nor published in his lifetime, they seem to have been made solely for the artist’s pleasure in a vast charming repertory of forms which he kept jealously to himself.
The Woman Seated in an Armchair and Removing her Stocking is freely inspired by the Old Masters. The figure of a woman undressing had long been dear to artists, as incarnated by Susanna and Bathsheba. When looking at our work, one could, in fact, be reminded of Rembrandt’s Bathsheba (Louvre Museum).
While applying academic canons, Dalou still achieves a modern work here which fits perfectly in with his time. It is indeed a lively flesh and blood sitter who finishes undressing before us. Seated in a squat armchair, the young woman is caught in a prosaic gesture – a position which is reminiscent of the Spinario (Rome, Conservators’ Palace). The left arm holds the leg while the right arm pulls off the last garment from the body, the stocking.
The bent head demonstrates how much the young woman is completely absorbed in her gesture and unconscious of being observed. More than Rodin or Carpeaux, who was the uncontested master of Dalou, this work is very close to Degas. The latter admitted to having shown his women washing or getting dressed “as if you were watching through a keyhole.” The gracious pose, the open knee, and the uneven modeling can all be found in different free-standing studies for the Dancer Putting on her Stocking, made by Degas at the end of his life (casts in the Orsay Museum.)
Dalou’s virtuosity is concentrated here: the vigourous handling divorces the figure from any attempt at idealization and anchors it in daily life. The body is well constructed; the supple pose combines grace and expressive density. One can find these same qualities in the Woman Removing her Stocking in the Orsay Museum (plaster with patina, H: 13-3/4”) in which the young woman is simply seated on a rock. One is also reminded of Nude Woman Reading in a Chair (Orsay Museum, bronze, H: 13”) who is seated in a small squat armchair and clothed only in a pair of high heels.
Dalou multiplied his studies. He first expressed everything on paper, before moving to three dimensions in plaster and then terracotta. A sketch drawn in graphite on vellum is known of Woman Removing her Stocking seated in a chair (Becker collection). Our plaster with patina was realized after the original terracotta (conserved in the Petit Palais, Paris, Simier, n° 308) and was probably intended to be cast by the Hebrard Foundries.
Henriette Caillaux suggests that perhaps during his exile in England (1871-1879), Dalou “sacrificed himself to the taste which the public had for Bathers.” “He excelled in this delicate genre,” states the author of the first monograph devoted to the artist. Hunisak supports this idea in his doctoral thesis, a fact which leads us to propose that our plaster may have been made in the 1870’s. Although Dalou published very few of his works in his lifetime, he envisaged doing it at the end of his life in order to insure an income for his daughter. Our Woman Removing her Stocking was published by a contract with Hébrard on May 10th, 1906 (n° 20); reproduction was limited to ten numbered casts.
We would like to thank Madame Cécile Champy-Vinas, Curator of Sculpture at the Petit Palais Museum, for having allowed us to study and compare our work next to the original.
S. LAMI, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’école française au XIXe siècle, Paris : Libr. H. Champion, 1914, vol. II, p. 13
H. CAILLAUX, Aimé Jules Dalou (1838 – 1902), Preface by M. Paul VITRY ; Paris : Libr. Delagrave, 1935, cat. 240, p. 131
C. FREGNAC, “Dalou tire de l’oubli,” Connaissance des arts, May 1964, p. 119
J. M. HUNISAK, The Sculptor Jules Dalou : Studies in his style and Imagery, New-York, Londres : Garland, 1977, p. 120, ill. 70
H. W. JANSON, Nineteenth century sculpture, London: Thames and Hudson, 1985, p. 199, ill. 229
Elegant // Expressiv. Von Houdon bis Rodin, Französische Plastik des 19. Jahrhunderts, exh. cat., Karlsruhe : Staatliche Kunsthalle, 2007, p. 267
A Fleur de peau. Le bas entre mode et art, de 1850 à 2006, exh. cat. Troyes, .. : 2007
A. SIMIER, Jules Dalou, sculpteur de la république, exh. cat. Petit Palais-Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, April-July 2013. See for comparison the terracotta version, pp.380-381 n°308