• Foundry A. A. Hébrard, Vaugirard.
• L’Orphelinat des Arts, Paris.
• France, Private Collection.
Terracotta. Paris, Petit Palais, inv. PPS00181 (purchased from Georgette Dalou in 1905).
Bronze: Contract Hébrard/Dalou heirs, December 31st, 1902, no 2 (as “Nymph Group: Faun and Child”) (See Pierre Cadet, “L’Édition des œuvres de Dalou par la maison Susse,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. CXXVI, February 1994, annex 6, no 2).
Ceramic: produced by the Sèvres Manufactory in biscuit and stoneware. Contract Sèvres/Dalou heirs on November 25th, 1923, no 1456.
Ovid’s version of the Minotaur differs from those of the Greek authors in its happy outcome. In the Metamorphoses, Ariadne falls in love with Theseus, helps him to get out of the labyrinth, and then goes with him in his boat to the Ile of Dia (and not Naxos). Theseus abandons her on the shores, but subsequently she is neither killed by Artemis (Homer), nor does she die of chagrin (Plutarch): “Her, thus deserted and greatly lamenting, Liber [Bacchus] embraces and aids.”
Since the Renaissance, Ovid’s text has inspired numerous artists. Bacchus was depicted discovering Ariadne asleep (Poussin, the Le Nain brothers), the princess was seen narrating her misfortunes to the god (Charles de La Fosse, Natoire), or their marriage feast was represented (Annibale Carracci, Jean-François de Troy), before Romanticism seized on Ariadne’s distress at being abandoned (Angelica Kauffmann, George Frederic Watts, the sculptor Aimé Millet). However until Dalou, no one had ever treated this first embrace despite the fact that for the Latin poet, it summarized the entire scene.
It was in the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts in 1892 that Dalou, President of the Sculpture section, presented the plaster group which was entitled Bacchus Consoling Ariadne (no 1484.) A dedicated sculptor known for his realist vision and praised for numerous public monuments including the Triumph of the Republic, a portraitist admired for the incisive naturalism of his busts, the artist surprised critics with this classical subject, this “unexpected rejuvenation” of an “old allegory.” The work was a private commission from the Drapé family from Agen, although it is not known whether the theme was imposed on Dalou or if the idea was his own.
Carving the marble was not painless, as illness and fatigue had become part of daily life for Dalou for a certain time. Two years after the plaster was exhibited, on July 11, 1894, he noted in his journal with relief, “We finished Mr. Drapé’s group. At last! We have just cleaned it up and tomorrow will pack it. En route for Agen!” Even so, the marble conserved today in the United States is not in the least stiff, rather it is pure poetry, whether in the delicacy of Bacchus’ hands supporting Ariadne, the princess’ feebleness in her pain, the god’s benevolent face, or the mischievous figure of the little satyr who holds out grapes for the tearful beauty.
The artist’s initial idea is known thanks to a drawing and a quite summary terracotta (Paris, Petit Palais, inv. PPS00184). Bacchus appears as a conqueror here and Ariadne pushes away his advances with determination. The second sketch in terracotta is quite different: the young woman, her head buried in the crook of his left arm, lets herself go entirely in the embrace of her future spouse who is filled with tenderness (not conserved; plaster example produced by Bertault in 1907 in the Petit Palais, inv. PPS01734). The third terracotta – which corresponds to our bronze – clearly heralds the marble to come: Bacchus is now standing over Ariadne whose right hand, deprived of strength, expresses her despair. The group perfectly interprets Ovid’s verse, because even before love, it illustrates compassion, comfort, and protection.
The terracottas, with their loose nervous treatment which retains the imprint of the sculptor’s hands, were not meant to be seen. Conserved in the studio, they were discovered after the death of the artist who had taken care to bequeath his entire oeuvre to his handicapped daughter Georgette and the Orphelinat des Arts where she was to live. Anticipating the taste of collectors for sketches and using the three contracts for casts which Dalou had made in his lifetime, the executors of his will organized posthumous editions of the terracottas, mainly in bronze. One of the first contracts was concluded in December 1902 with the Hébrard Company which had just opened a foundry in Vaugirard. The terracottas were first “cast with gelatin” by Amédée Bertault, Dalou’s mold maker, to make a plaster or bronze model, depending on the intended results. Its perfect conformity to the original work was then verified by Auguste Becker, the sculptor’s studio manager and main collaborator who had been given the responsibility to oversee technical issues by the estate. Marked with an M for “model,” our bronze is one of these key models which remained at the foundry before being returned at the end of the contract to its legitimate owner, the Orphanage for the Arts.
Henriette CAILLAUX, Aimé Jules Dalou (1838-1902), preface by P. Vitry, Paris, 1935, cat. 205, p. 142 (terracotta).
Maurice DREYFOUS, Dalou, sa vie et son œuvre, Paris, 1903, pp. 222-223 (marble), ill. p. 223 (terracotta ?).
John M. HUNISAK, The Sculptor Jules Dalou : Studies in his style and Imagery, New York, London, 1977, p. 81, ill. 34C (terracotta).
Pierre KJELLBERG, Les Bronzes du XIXe siècle. Dictionnaire des sculpteurs, Paris, 1989, p. 240 (bronze).
Stanislas LAMI, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’école française au XIXe siècle, Paris, 1914, vol. II, p. 11 (terracotta).
Amélie SIMIER et Marine KISIEL, Jules Dalou, le sculpteur de la République. Catalogue des sculptures de Jules Dalou conservées au Petit Palais, Paris, Museums, 2013, p. 424, no 358 (terracotta).
Daumier et ses amis républicains, exh. cat. Marseille, Cantini Museum, 1979, no 109 (bronze cast).