When we think of the heavy hitters in the history of sculpture, usually it’s the Italians dominating center stage. Really, who could overlook the brilliant creations of Bernini, Michelangelo and Donatello (not the Mutant Ninja Turtle versions). However, some of my favorite sculptures of all time were made by French artists. When speaking of French sculptors, most people immediately think of Rodin, but France’s sculptural offerings are so much more vast than just this one artist.

Many classical works of art could be viewed as the incipience of the current Fantastic art/Imaginative Realism communities – kind of like the great-great Art grandmas and grandpas of us all. In these works, I find inspiration and challenge in a way – to keep questing for how to bring the best I have to contribute to the ongoing current of creativity.

One of my favorite places to lose myself in artistic ecstasy is the French Sculpture wing at Le Louvre and of course, the main atrium at the d’Orsay. Since we haven’t been able to visit my favorite inspirational sculptures in person for a very long time now, I thought I would share some of them here.

Emmanuel Frémiet

While his name may not bring to mind any particular sculptures for most, Frémiet (1824 – 1910) probably should have a little spot on every fantasy artist’s inspiration board. I’d been in love with his faun sculpture for many years before his entire body of work began to register on my radar and then it was an explosion of “wow!!! moments.”

I love that this sculpture is just as delightful (perhaps more so) from the back as it is from the front and side views. The way Frémiet has depicted the legs splayed out in such an animalistic manner combined with the expressive hand, his upright upper back and the sense of weight in the body emphasized by raised shoulders…this being just radiates the essence of faun-ness. He is completely believable as a creature of the forest as delighted by the cubs as they are delighted with his gift of the honeycomb.

A couple years ago, we met up with Dan Chudzinski, Linda Adair and Patrick Masson in Paris to visit the museums. We were headed to the Museum of Comparative Anatomy (another must see for any representational artist – just go, I promise you you will be thrilled you did). Colin, Dan and I arrived before Linda and Patrick.

While the museum itself is astounding, Colin, Dan and I didn’t get past Frémiet’s sculpture in the entry vestibule – “Orang-outan étranglant un Sauvage de Bornéo” – for a very, very long time. We walked around, got close and far, took pictures from every possible vantage point and had a lengthy discussion about the intricacies of this masterwork. We finally moved on to the actual museum. Later, when Linda arrived, she told the man in the ticket booth she was meeting some sculptors and before she could even begin to ask if he knew where we were, he said with a perfunctory nod over his shoulder and a sigh, “Yes, yes, yes – they’re right over there.” Must have been pretty obvious we were into sculpture!

The story on this sculpture can be seen by close observation. The mother orangutan has been grievously wounded on her side in the struggle with the warrior, whose face has been slashed. The assailant’s weapon is seen lying near the scene of the struggle.

One presumes from the baby orangutan’s silent scream that the warrior was going for the baby and the mother was injured, perhaps fatally, protecting her young. Despite the piece being designed to be against a wall, the moment and each character’s role is captured emotionally and dramatically in the dynamism of the composition.

And a few extra Frémiet delights:

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse

Ah, my long love affair with the magnificent Carrier-Belleuse (1824 – 1887) began when John Fleskes introduced us at a gathering once. Well, really, John brought us to the Legion of Honor Museum on a visit to San Francisco. You never forget the moment of falling in love: I walked around a corner in the museum, looked a little to the left and there she was – Carrier-Belleuse’s “Mary, Queen of Scots.” I stopped in my tracks and pretty much stopped breathing. A life-sized terra cotta (fired clay) bust sequestered in a glass case, she stood with an elegant grace and beauty all her own. I’ve loved sculptural surface embellishment since my high school days, but this took it to a whole new stratosphere. I was entranced and Carrier-Belleuse immediately became one of my art mentors.

Since then, I have been on a quest to seek out his original works in museums around the world. One time, while visiting LACMA for the first time (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), I came around a corner. Colin was waiting and snapped this pic of my reaction. I think my feet are not even close to touching the floor at this moment!

These are all fired clay – ceramic sculptures. His unapologetic exuberance in surface adornment never fails to delight me.

There are so many more French sculptors and sculptures to share, but that’s for another time – part II. I’ll wrap up today with one more sculptor who put an intriguing twist on a common theme in one of our favorite marble sculptures:

James Pradier

James Pradier (1790-1852), born Jean-Jacques Pradier, created a body of monumental marble sculptures depicting mythological themes. One that we are perpetually taken with is his “Satyr and Bacchante.” His technical mastery and the beauty in his rendering of both beings is astounding.

Details he added to the Satyr, showcasing a beautiful male form but with adaptations that create a believable mythological creature:

From the front view, the sculpture appears to represent another abduction – a common theme in classical art.

But when you walk around to look at different views, a whole new interpretation reveals itself. The expression on the woman’s face is not one of terror, but one of pleasure and joy. He supports her back gently with his right hand – the flesh is not being gripped as we have seen in something like Bernini’s “Rape of Proserpina.” We see that they are reveling in the celebration together, giving the sculpture an aura of mutual amusement.

A few other Pradier marble beauties:

Revisiting all these favorites of mine makes me uber enthusiastic to get back to my own sculpting. I hope you’ve enjoyed remembering some of these sculptures that you may have seen before and maybe discovered a few new works that will ignite some creative fires.

Keep creating!