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Clodion was a contemporary of Houdon and Fragonard. He went to Paris at the age of seventeen and worked in his uncle Lambert-Sigisbert Adam’s studio where he made sculpture for the competitions at the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Clodion later became a pupil in Pigalle’s studio and then won the Prix de Rome. He left for Rome in 1762 where he spent nine years. Those years were essential to the development of his craft. It was also in the eternal city that he attracted important patrons such as the Duc de la Rochefoucauld and Catherine the Great of Russia. Clodion was ordered back to Paris in 1771 by the Marquis de Marigny, Directeur des Batiments du Roi and established a workshop in what is now the Place de la Concorde.
Clodion was in great demand upon his return to Paris. He was awarded several important, large-scale commissions but his greatest success came with his intimate terracotta groups depicting nymphs, satyrs and cherubs, like the present sculpture. The influence of antiquity, particularly the energetic figures on classical sarcophagi (fig. 1) as well as the bacchanalian subject-matter, is evident in these sculptures. Moreover, Clodion was innovative; he developed his own style which was punctuated by the meticulous attention to detail, lyrical figure-style and authentic, tactile surfaces.
This scene from a bacchanal, celebrates Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility. Here the young bacchante delicately upholds a mouth-watering bunch of grapes while sitting on the shoulder of the bacchant and gingerly leaning on another female figure who stands on her toes reaching upward while a heavy swathe of drapery, supported by a sash, cascades down the front of her body. Another bacchante scarcely pushes the top figure with one hand while being weighed down by the ewer in her right arm. The muscular male bacchant strides forward while tightly grasping and pulling the ribbon-bound garland that encircles the upper figures’ waist. His goat’s skin barely covers his body as it falls in folds to the ground scattered with a tambourine, a thyrsus, a wine cup and grape vines.
The majority of Clodion’s terracottas are not dated and many were left unsigned. The present signed sculpture dated 1800, is among the group of works in which one figure is shown lifting another. Another fine example of Two Bacchants Carrying a Bacchante, 1795, is in the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena.There is only a modicum of restraint evident in the sculptor’s style, compared with his earlier works. As Poulet explains (1984, op. cit.), “…by no means [do these groups] reveal what was to come artistically, Neoclassicism.” Poulet further notes (op. cit., p. 17) that sculptures from this group of later 18th century works are “technically complex and are superbly modelled.” The present sculpture is a rare and spectacular achievement in clay that provides insight into the aristocracy’s great passion for the Rococo and perhaps a delightful reprieve from the memory of the Revolution.
Alfred Charles Baron de Rothschild CVO (1842 –1918) was the second son of Lionel de Rothschild and Baroness Charlotte von Rothschild of the prominent Rothschild family. At Trinity College, Alfred formed a lasting friendship with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. At the age of 21 Alfred was employed at the N M Rothschild Bank in London where he learned the business from his father and made valuable contacts in European banking circles. In 1868, at the age of 26, Alfred became a director of the Bank of England, a post he held for 20 years. A patron of the arts, he also donated funds for acquisitions to the National Art Gallery, London and he was trustee of both The National Gallery and the Wallace Collection.
A. L. Poulet, Clodion Terracottas in North American Collections, (exh. cat.), The Frick Collection, 2 June 2- 30 September, 1984 The Frick Collection, New York
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