• France, Private Collection
In about 1920, Albert Harlingue, who was composing a series of portraits of Parisian sculptors, photographed Suzanne Bizard in her studio on Avenue de Breteuil. Rather than be shown modeling one of her oeuvres, as did the majority of her male colleagues, the artist chose to pose very simply next to her most ambitious undertaking entitled Honor and Money. She is clothed in a wool sweater and wide pants splattered with plaster, but her hair is tucked into an elegant bun in pre-World War I fashion in total contrast to her working attire. Hands in her pockets, she calmly gazes at the viewer, a charming smile on her lips affirming her identity as woman and sculptor.
Irene Marie Suzanne Bizard was born in 1872 in Saint Amand Montrond into an artistic well off family. Her father, Sylvain François Félix Bizard was an entrepreneur, while her maternal uncle, François Moreau de Charny, was a watercolorist, poet, and writer. Attracted to sculpture at an early age, Suzanne came to Paris where she especially followed the teaching of Alexandre Falguière. A member of the National Society of Fine Arts, and then the Society of French Artists, and the Union of Women Painters and Sculptors, she exhibited busts, plasters, and statuettes at the Salons and at various events from 1893 to 1930. In 1900, she obtained an honorable mention for the Towards the Ideal (n. 1846), purchased by the State. It consisted of a plaster statue depicting a slim, graceful, young nude woman stretching her arms up towards the sky, a dragon, and a skull at her feet. Exhibited three years later, the monumental Allegory of Honor and Money was also acquired by the State (n. 2543). Personifying Honor, the beautiful young woman effortlessly resists Money’s violent muscular attempts to topple her. Praised by the critics, the group brought the artist fame both in France and elsewhere.
Less spectacular, Bizard’s subsequent submissions to the Salon were no less noticed and earned her a bronze medal in 1913. Her style now was quite different with a weighty realism taking the place of her former poetic Art Nouveau allegorical figures, as in Quietude (Salon of 1909) a portrait of an old blind seated woman. After the war, Bizard purified her style to merge into Art Deco. The artist resumed doing nudes, but also turned towards the depiction of children and animal sculpture in which she excelled while giving free rein to her natural mischievousness.
Our little bust dates to the beginning of Suzanne Bizard’s career which was marked by turn of the century decorative Symbolist pursuits. Nonetheless, the monumental nudes and our mysterious little princess with her lowered eyes, richly embroidered robes, and sophisticated headdress had certain qualities in common. Not only was the artist fascinated with both subjects, but in her own way, the medieval lady is quite sensual and her face bears some resemblance to that of Honor. Tirelessly, Bizard returned to princess again and again, sculpting her in bronze, alabaster, marble, and mixed techniques, such as ivory and bronze, alabaster and marble even ass he was to be indefatigable in her work on the monumental nudes.
Admirably chiseled, our bust seems to be the culmination of this quest for the unattainable. The young woman with fine features and half-closed almond shaped eyes evokes both Quattrocento Madonnas and those by Northern Renaissance painters. From underneath the skillfully folded headdress, her delicately braided hair escapes down her back and disappears beneath the richly decorated border of her dress. A few folds reveal the presence of a fine wimple covering this beautiful lady’s long neck and throat. The modesty of the dress is interrupted by an imposing jewel spreading in two whorls across her chest. Neither embroidery nor metalwork, it emphasizes the insubstantiality of the princess, her inexistence, her detachment from the material world and from history. For behind the young woman’s light decorativeness can be recognized the questioning of ideals, beauty, dreams, and illusion by the artist and her contemporaries.