S otheby’s Excellence sale in Paris on 13 November features a fine selection of important European works of art and 18th century terracotta sculptures, and coincides with the Paris Fine Art Fair, which, in partnership with some of the major French museums — the Louvre, Petit Palais, Centre Pompidou and more — brings together fine art in all its forms.
This year, the off-site events of this year’s fair will focus on sculpture. Together, for lovers of sculpture, these events present two excellent reasons to visit Paris this November. Read on to discover more about the sculptures in Sotheby’s Excellence sale.
Virgin and Child
Attributed to Gervais I Delabarre, Le Mans, circa 1635
The ample silhouette of our Virgin and the draperies of her mantle are distinct from the mannerist canon of the early 17th century. It seems instead the work of a sculptor active in the second quarter of the century, in the circle of Charles Hoyau and, even more closely, of Gervais I and Gervais II Delabarre.
The classical features of her face, her majestic attitude and the gesture of the Child's hand demanding the breast are found in the Virgin and Child of St. Peter Cathedral, in Poitiers, and that of St. Denis d'Orcques, both by Gervais I Delabarre. It can also be compared to those of Notre-Dame des Vertus, in La Flèche, and Saint-Martin of Rouez, both by his son, Gervais II. Fired in a potter's oven filled with all kinds of dishes, our terracotta bears the expected dripping and splashing of the glaze coating from these articles of everyday use.
Presumed portrait of Anne-Adélaïde de Lignereux
French, circa 1780-1790
Attributed to Jean-Louis Couasnon (1747-1802)
This bust was first mentioned in the collection of Charles Haas, an influential man famous for having inspired the character of Charles Swann in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, as well as for being Sarah Bernhardt's lover.
Beyond the classical conventions of commissioned portraits, this bust testifies to the new position of children within the society during the Age of Enlightenment, as promoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is related to the intimate portraits which were in vogue in the circle of Houdon to whom it has often been attributed. Her evanescent smile and the hint of melancholy in her eyes portray a contemplative little girl, absorbed in her thoughts. It was later part of the marvellous collection assembled by the Marquis de Ganay and his wife, Emily.
Workshop of Jean-Jacques Caffieri
French, late 18th century
Jean-Jacques Caffieri was born into a prosperous family of sculptors of Italian origin. He was first trained by his father Jacques, a sculptor and bronze caster, before entering Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne's (1704-1778) studio and establishing the foundations of his skill as a portraitist.
In 1759, Caffieri presented his marble version of a River God as his morceau de réception to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. This work (today in the Louvre), shows a seated man holding an urn. The composition of our Rivergod is different: the bearded man is, following the antique tradition, seated with his legs stretched to the side, leaning against an urn from which water pours, and holding a paddle in the other hand.
Rivergods have always been a fascination for sculptors. The antique marbles of Tiber and Nile, rediscovered in 1512 and 1523 (Rome, Vatican museums), served as a source of inspiration. Also, Caffieri must have known his master's Oceanus,made by Lemoyne in 1740 for the Versailles gardens, as well as Robert Le Lorrain's terracotta Rivergod from the 1737 Salon (Louvre, inv. n° RF2492). But it is certainly his impressions of Rome which he took home with him, seeing Gianlorenzo Bernini's fountain of the Quattro Fiumi which inspired Caffieri to make this Rivergod. This finely modelled terracotta illustrates perfectly the Roman Baroque and Caffieri's skill in rendering a muscular body in fresh clay, the treatment of beard and hair, demonstrating the artist's talent.