Sladmore: Life in Bronze

Sladmore: Life in Bronze

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 38. Héraklès, Archer, première composition.

Antoine Bourdelle

Héraklès, Archer, première composition

Lot Closed

April 6, 02:38 PM GMT


250,000 - 350,000 GBP

Lot Details


Antoine Bourdelle

1861 - 1929

Héraklès, Archer, première composition

inscribed EMILE ANTOINE Bourdelle and with the foundry mark Alexis. Rudier Fondeur. Paris

bronze, rich medium brown patina with darker brown undertones

height: 61cm., 24in.

Conceived in 1906-1909 and probably cast during the artist's lifetime.

Private Collection (sold: Sotheby’s, London, 4th December 1985, lot 159)
Private Collection, California (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection (by descent from the above. Sold: Sotheby’s, New York, 3rd November 2011, lot 421)
Private Collection, USA (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 4th November 2014, lot 64)
Acquired in 2014 

Jacques A. Mithouard, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Paris, 1924, the larger version illustrated p. 9

André Fontainas, Bourdelle, Paris, 1930, no. 17, the larger version illustrated pl. 17

Paul Lorenz, Bourdelle. Sculptures et dessins, Paris, 1947, no. 25, another cast illustrated n.p.

Pierre Descargues, Bourdelle, Paris, 1954, the larger version illustrated p. 38

Ionel Jianou & Michel Dufet, Bourdelle, Paris, 1978, no. 400, catalogued p. 108

Carol M. Lavrillier & Michel Dufet, Bourdelle et la critique de son temps, Paris, 1979, the larger version illustrated pl. 20

Peter Cannon-Brookes, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, London, 1983, another cast illustrated pl. 89 & p. 62

Conceived in 1906-09, Héraklès, Archer is Bourdelle’s best-known and most celebrated work. The subject is taken from the Greek myth of the Stymphalian birds; a tale of the sixth labour of Hercules in which he heroically drives away a flock of man-eating birds using arrows tipped with the poisonous blood of Hydra. Bourdelle frequently turned to Classical sources for inspiration, although his choice of this subject may in fact have initially been suggested by the impressive physiognomy of the man who modelled for the figure. Bourdelle met Captain Doyen-Parigot at a gathering at Rodin’s atelier and Doyen-Parigot agreed to model for the younger artist. A French cavalry officer, Doyen-Parigot was a man of great physical strength, although reportedly even he struggled to hold the demanding pose of this work for more than a few minutes at a time, using a broom handle in place of a bow.

His exertions were nonetheless hugely effective; Bourdelle captures the full power of his subject with every taut muscle and strained sinew defined with eloquent precision. Bourdelle made eight smaller-scale sculptural studies in preparation for a monumental bronze (measuring over two metres in height); these are principally differentiated in the treatment of the face that is initially naturalistic (as in the present work) and becomes more stylised. This may have been in response to a request from Pargot who was conscious of his career and reputation and wanted his identity to be concealed.

A version of the subject was first exhibited at the Salon de la Société National des Beaux-Arts in 1910 and met with immediate critical acclaim. The French writer Charles Morice praised the work in the highest terms in his review of the exhibition in the Mercure de France: ‘The unbelievably audacious movement of this archer balancing himself in mid-air, supported against the ridge of a rock, that human form that even appears to leap in its immobility, that summary, precise, full and vibrant modelling is one of the most prodigious endeavours of living art. Here realism borders on idealism. A model may have sat for this anatomy, but none could have given it this countenance or this movement. Bourdelle’s art marks the transition from the long period of enslavement by reality, which we have experienced, to the new, necessary phase in which the artist will review in his heart all the secrets of nature and reflect them in a creation more faithful to general truth and at the same time revealing his own personal, intimate truth’ (Charle Morice, ‘L’Art de Bourdelle, Mercure de France’, 1910, quoted in Ionel Jianou & Michel Dufet, op. cit., pp. 28-29).

There are casts of other versions of Héraklès in museum collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Museum of Art, Bucharest; Middelheim Museum, Antwerp; Princeton University Art Museum and the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown Massachusetts.