Most American have never heard of French artist Edmé Bouchardon (1698-1762), one of the most renowned sculptors and draftsman of his day. But an exhibit that opened this week at the Getty Center in Los Angeles hopes to change that and draw broader attention to Bouchardon’s talent.
“Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment” is the first major exhibition devoted exclusively to the 18th century artist. The exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum was organized with the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where it was on view this past fall before coming to North America.
“Bouchardon’s astounding skill in carving marble and his brilliantly realized drawings, marveled at in his own time, remain just as captivating today,” noted Getty director Timothy Potts. He pointed out how rare his balanced talent for drawing and sculpting was.
Many of Bouchardon’s sketches are three-dimensional in feel, showing that he envisioned his subjects on paper much like sculptures. In fact, the exhibit includes three red chalk sketches developed in different viewpoints alongside one of his statuary masterpieces, “Cupid Carving a Bow from Hercules’s Club,” commissioned by King Louis XV.
The Getty exhibition features many pieces that had never traveled outside of France before. It incorporates more than 150 Bouchardon works, including 30 sculptures, 100 drawings and prints, as well as medals designed by him. Conceived as a reassessment of his work and achievements, the exhibit required a lot of conservation and cleaning work behind the scenes. Additionally, as Potts noted, “Moving works of this scale – in marble – is not done lightly.”
The exhibit is organized chronologically and presented in seven sections that reflect his evolution as an artist and Royal favorite. It starts in the entry hall of the Getty with one of his pieces completed as a 25-year-old art student, “The Sleeping Faun.” His training involved studying classical antiquities and Italian Renaissance masters. The marble piece for the king was a requirement of his educational curriculum. As Potts commented, the museum put “this spectacular faun in the lobby as an encouragement not to miss this exhibition.”
Bouchardon became well known right away during his nine-year educational stay in Rome, largely because of Cardinal Melchoir de Polignac. The Cardinal commissioned him to do the first marble portrait of the newly elected Pope Clement XII. Busts he did of the Cardinal and the Pope are in the Getty show. They display the breadth of Bouchardon’s influences – the feel of classical Roman busts, elements from Bernini, and a Baroque treatment of the clothing more typical of French styles of the period.
The artist liked designing fountains, because they combine architecture, sculpture, decoration, as well as water features. Two of his ideas were executed and featured in the Getty show. One was the Neptune Fountain at Versailles and the other was the Grenelle Fountain on the left bank of the Seine. Related drawings and materials show his preparatory work for the fountains.
Newly cleaned marble reliefs of the four seasons from the Grenelle Fountain were lent for the exhibit by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The pieces capture Bouchardon’s stylistic flair, with characters leaping off the background, distinct textures conveying animal fur, hair, ethereal smoke, soft flesh on the cherubs, and details in shrubbery.
For the last 25 years of his life, Bouchardon served as the draftsman for the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres. One role of the royal institution was providing inscriptions for the regime’s medals. Using ideas from academicians of the day, Bouchardon designed tokens and medals distributed during Louis XV’s reign. Medals from the series that belong to the King himself along with others are displayed in the exhibition.
The End and The Revolution
The artist’s relationship with the King is probably a major reason he is not as well known as his talent warranted. The last section of the Getty exhibit is devoted to Edmé Bouchardon’s final sculpture, which should have served as his signature piece. He began work in 1748 on an enormous equestrian bronze statue of Louis XV. Some of his extensive preparatory drawings are in the show. It was cast in bronze in 1758, then refined and finally displayed after his death in 1763 in what is now Paris’s Place de la Concorde. However, the statue was destroyed (along with some of Bouchardon’s other works) during the French Revolution.
The Getty’s “Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment” exhibit will clearly draw broader attention to the artist, but is in Los Angeles for a limited time. The rare American opportunity to see examples of the artist’s remaining works will only be available through April 2.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Getty: J. Paul Getty Museum Presents First Major Exhibition On Renowned 18th-Century Artist Edmé Bouchardon
Art UK: Edmé Bouchardon
Wall Street Journal: The Art of Curmudgeonly Bouchardon
Photos of Bouchardon works by Dyanne Weiss, courtesy of the Getty Museum. Subjects: “Cupid Carving a Bow from Hercules’s Club” along with sketches from the Musée du Louvre, “Winter” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and bust of “Pope Clement XII” from the Galleria Corsini in Firenze.