His Femme piquée par un serpent caused controversy among the Parisian audience at the Salon de 1847, and is today exhibited in the great hall of the Musée d'Orsay. The details of the skin were so sharp and the eroticism so powerful that he was accused of creating moulds from life. The model is in fact Apollonie Sabatier, Theophile Gautier's muse, known as La Présidente. The latter's "salon" of rue Frochot used to gather poets and writers who shared a great freedom of mind and behaviour, to be far away from social conventions.
She is the woman with a shawle in Courbet's workshop painting to whom Baudelaire clandestinely addressed marvelous poems:
... Ainsi je voudrais une nuit
Quand l'heure des voluptés sonne
Vers les trésors de ta personne
Comme un lâche ramper sans bruit...
The same year, Clesinger married Solange Dudevant, George Sand's daughter, from whom he separated a few years later.
The sculptor met Gustave Courbet at the art school of Besançon. They remained friends throughout their life. Clesinger was first interested in romanticism and naturalism. He had to sell sculpture to make a living. A highly acclaimed exhibition featured their work together in 2011, in Ornans.
Extremely gifted, Clesinger came back to a perfectly mastered neoclassicism at some point in his career.
The work here presented dates from 1865. Helen of Troy, daughter of Zeus and Leda, wife of Menelaus, the king of Spartacus, is kidnapped by Paris and brought back to Troy. Aphrodite (the Judgment of Paris) had promised the Trojan prince the most beautiful woman in the world. It started a war that resonated in history.
In this Carrara marble sculpture, the treatment of the drapery, the motion of the fingers clutching the pearl necklace and the beautiful calm and classic face of Helen highly contrast with the havoc she and Paris have provoked.
It seems that this marble is the only replica with the same dimensions as the marble carved 1864 and mentioned circa 1900 in the collection of the Countess of Jumilhac, sold by Sotheby's London, 11 July 2001, lot 215 ( GBP 91,500).
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