- François Pompon
- Ours blanc
- Inscribed Pompon, numbered 1 and stamped with the foundry mark C. Valsuani Cire Perdue
Private Collection, France (by descent from the above)
Acquired from the above in 2014
Robert Rey, François Pompon, Paris, 1928, illustration of another cast p. 22
Catherine Chevillot, Liliane Colas & Anne Pingeot, François Pompon, Paris, 1994, no. 122, illustrations of other examples pp. 33, 54, 57, 60, 73, 81, 188 & 211-12; pls. 1, 3, 44 & 52
Rétrospective François Pompon 1855-1933 (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Brame & Lorenceau, Paris, 1999, illustration of another cast
Pompon spent much of his early career as a highly sought-after assistant to the finest sculptors in Paris, including Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. However, like many artists active in the early modern era, Pompon reacted against the expressive aesthetics that prevailed at the time to develop a purer, more essential form of sculpture, one epitomized by the present work. Together with such masterpieces as Aristide Maillol’s La Méditerannée and, later, Constantin Brancusi’s L'Oiseau dans l'espace, Ours blanc brought about a new formal language in sculpture which focused on the reduction of form and volume to its essentials, thus breaking from the narrative and descriptive tradition of representation.
The natural grace of the polar bear is immediately evoked by the smooth surface of Ours blanc, though the form is further underpinned by a subtle sense of movement. Pompon’s concentration on geometrical volumes enabled him to summarize animal characteristics and personalities effectively whilst the smooth homogenous surfaces of the bronzes, marbles and stones illustrate their subjects’ grace and nobility. Brancusi was an admirer of Pompon and his own representations of animals share the spiritual and aesthetic qualities of Pompon’s art. Emblematic of the creative spirit and artistic confidence of its creator, a larger bronze cast of this model's head adorned the door of the sculptor’s atelier in Paris. In 1937, the city of Dijon erected a monumental version of Ours blanc in honor of Pompon, who had once worked and studied there. Another monumental version, measuring nearly two meters, is one of the highlights of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection of twentieth-century art. Many versions in bronze and cast stone are displayed in major museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, though rare is bronze cast in the artist’s lifetime, thus underscoring the significance of the appearance of this particular sculpture at auction.