Born in Palermo in 1814 to French parents, Joseph Michel-Ange Pollet studied under masters such as the Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen, Palermo sculptor Valerio Villareale and Pietro Tenerani. He travelled throughout Europe for several years before settling and truly beginning his career in Paris. Pollet quickly gained recognition as a sculptor at the yearly Paris Salon, where he exhibited his work on a number of occasions and was awarded medals in 1847, 1848 and 1851. His highest honor came in 1856, when he was granted the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur. Shortly thereafter, he began receiving commissions from the Royal Court , the clergy and several French cultural institutions.
The present lot is striking both for its beauty and monumentality. A young nude woman, attended by a winged cupid, gracefully raises her arms above her head to tend to her blossoming chignon. Just barely supported by the putto below, she is lifted from the ground itself.
When it was exhibited alongside its bronze reduction at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855 (no. 4543), renowned art critic and poet Théophile Gautier described this remarkable piece as follows: "Les blancheurs et les transparences marmoréenes, le carrare et le pentélique, avec leur mica scintillant conviennent mieux que l'airain aux jeunes immortelles nues" (The marmoreal whites and transparency, the carrara and the pentélique, with their scintillating crystals are far better suited than bronze for young, immortal nudes.)
This model has variants in marble, plaster and bronze, and is arguably one of Pollet's most famed compositions. The group, which was first seen at the Salon in 1848, achieved instant popularity and fame; Pollet began receiving requests for the right to execute reproductions almost immediately. The Empress Eugenié was able to secure a smaller sized version which has since disappeared, and another one, originally belonging to Lord Waring, was sold at Sotheby's London, December 9, 1993, lot 85.
The version in Bronze that was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1855 (no.4543), about which Gautier commented, was edited in various sizes by the foundry of Colin and also by Labroue, examples of which can be seen in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Rheims and Grenoble, France.
The Ministry of the Interior commissioned a marble version which was exhibited at the Salon of 1850 (no. 3554), and then placed in the Palais de Saint-Cloud until it was removed to the Louvre on the 17th of September 1870. It was ultimately placed in the vestibule of the Museum of the Second Empire at the Palais de Compiègne, Oise.
A similar example, dated 1857, was sold Sotheby's New York, The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, May 26, 1994, lot 12.
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