- Emmanuel Frémiet
- gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman)
- signed: E FREMIET and stamped: 9
- bronze, dark brown and gold brown patina
- 44.5cm., 17½in.
When in 2005 the curators of Tate Modern chose to place a life-size version of Fremiet's Gorilla Carrying off a Woman in the entrance foyer of the exhibition Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, it powerfully set the scene of a civilised Paris art world fascinated by the untamed and dangerous jungle.
Fremiet's first version of the subject was rejected by the Paris Salon in 1859, and famously attacked for its sensationalism by Baudelaire. The 1859 version is known only from a photograph as it was destroyed in a malicious arson attack on the artist's studio in 1861. It differs in several aspects from the second version which Fremiet exhibited successfully at the Salon twenty-eight years later in 1887. The present bronze is a reduction of the second version. In the first version the woman appears to be unconscious and is limp in the gorilla's hold as he runs unhindered. In the second the gorilla appears to be cornered and attacked by unseen assailants – a spear has pierced his shoulder and he has lifted a rock ready to strike. He holds his prize away from the attack, whilst she forcefully attempts to escape.
The first version of Fremiet's Gorilla was refused the same year that Darwin's Origin of the Species was published. The reception of the second version nearly three decades later illustrates how much public attitudes had changed. The model was awarded a médaille d'honneur at the 1887 Salon. The urban fear of the wild beast was now tempered with empathy. Moreover, as Nancy Ireson suggests, such subjects offered 'an escape from the "jungle" of Paris' and 'freedom from the everyday grind of civilised life.'
N. Ireson et al., Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, ex. cat. Tate Galleries, London, 2005, pp. 111-5 ; C. Chevillot, Emmanuel Fremiet, ex. cat. Musée des Beaux Arts de Dijon, 1988, nos. S132 & S145; P. Fusco & H. Janson, The Romantics to Rodin, ex. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988, pp. 276-8