This spectacular marble is the most significant sculpture by the Luxembourgish sculptor Pierre Federspiel to come to auction, and it may be counted among his major works. Rising from a wave-like support in a beautiful S-curve, partially draped and holding up a mirror in her raised left hand, the present female nude is a testament to the sculptor’s skill and originality.
Although eclipsed in fame by his French confrères, Pierre Federspiel was Luxembourg’s foremost sculptor of the late 19th and early 20th century. Having studied first at the Academy in Munich, then at the Académie Julian in Paris, Federspiel began his career as a pupil in the private studio of Alfred Boucher, the celebrated self-taught sculptor who was a close friend of Auguste Rodin. Federspiel first exhibited at the Cercle Artistique in Luxembourg in 1894, followed by several participations at the Paris Salon, recorded in 1889, 1890, 1892 and 1905. Federspiel’s oeuvre ranged from public monuments to bourgeois portraiture. He executed several monumental sculptures for his native Luxembourg, including the Monument Dicks et Lentz at the Place d’Armes, the frieze with Countess Ermesinde on the façade of the Cercle Municipal, as well as the heads of historical figures which decorate the façade of the Gare Central. When representing personages of his time, such as Prince Henri, Joseph Junck, and various women of society, Federspiel was known for employing a bourgeois realism, emphasising their contemporary dress and demeanour. Pierre Federspiel was revered by his fellow countrymen, and his legacy survives in the Luxembourgish street that was named after him.
The present marble is an exciting rediscovery, as it represents an important private commission and reveals Federspiel’s treatment of the female nude on a life-size scale. The sculptor’s handling of the woman’s physique owes much to his master, Boucher, whose nudes share the lithe limbs and naturalistic curves exhibited here. While the exact circumstances of its commission are unknown, the composition is probably inspired by Pierre Jules Cavelier's La Vérité (1853), which once graced the Tuileries garden in Paris and survives as a plaster version in the Palais des Beaux-arts de Lille (inv. no. Sc. 81). Using the same iconography of a female nude lifting a veil and holding up a mirror, Federspiel clearly intended for his marble to symbolise either Truth or Beauty Unveiled. Despite the marble's ostensible function as an allegory, the woman’s contemporary hairstyle and individual facial features form a contrast to the idealised, long-haired girl in Cavelier's model, which suggests that Federspiel's statue could have been at least partially conceived as a portrait. It may seem improper for a lady of society to be portrayed unclothed in statuary, but this is not without artistic precedent. Federspiel's image recalls the Flavian period of Roman antiquity, during which women of status were immortalised in marble as nude ‘Venuses’ with matron-like faces and distinctly imperial hairstyles. Perhaps the delicate features of the present nude belong to the lady of the house in Brussels for which the statue was made in 1900, and where it has remained until the present day.
Federspiel's combination of idealism and fin-de-siècle realism result in a remarkably elegant composition, whose allure is enhanced by the tantalisingly mysterious identity of its sitter.
E. Bénézit, Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, Paris, 1999, vol. 5, p. 350