For the example of the Gillion Crowet collection, currently exhibited in the collection of the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Belgium:
Philippe Garner, "The Bronzes of Alfonse Mucha", Art at Auction : The Year at Sotheby's & Parke-Bernet 1971-1972, New York, pp. 432-437
Michel Draguet, Treasures of Art Nouveau, Through the Collections of Anne-Marie Gillion, Milan, 1999, cover, pp. 88, 98-103
For the example of the Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe:
Mucha 1860-1939, peintures, illustrations, affiches, arts décoratifs, exhibition catalogue, Grand Palais, Paris, February 5 - April 28, 1980, cat. n. 145
Alphonse Mucha, exhibition catalogue, Musée du Belvédère, Vienna, February 12 – June 1, 2009, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, June 20 – September 20, 2009, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, October 9, 2009 – January 24, 2010, p. 185
For the example previously in the Victor Arwas collection and currently in the collection of Sakai Government, Japan:
Jiri Mucha, Alphonse Maria Mucha : His Life and Art, New York, 1989, pp. 162-163
John Hoole and Tomoko Sato, Alphonse Mucha, London, 1993, p. 19, fig. 8
Gabriele Fahr-Becker, Art Nouveau, Cologne, 1997, pp. 90-91
Victor Arwas et al., Alphonse Mucha, The Spirit of Art Nouveau, Alexandria, Virginia, 1998, pp. 78-81, fig. 1
Sarah Mucha et al., Alphonse Mucha : A l'occasion de la création du Musée Mucha, Prague, Paris, 2000, pp. 14-15
Until today, only six versions of this bust were known. Our sculpture represents thus a rediscovery as it brings the number of referenced versions to seven. They are all slightly different, particularly in certain details of the tiara, of the ovoid jewel which crowns it and in the patina’s finish.
La Nature was exhibited for the first time in the Austrian section of the 1900 World Exhibition and reproduced as n°102 in the official catalogue as well as in the revue Le mois littéraire et pittoresque. Strangely, it seems to have sparked scarcely any comment during the World Exhibition. Only a brief description by Anna Dvorak in a publication relating to the exhibition devoted to the art of Small European States describes it as 'a bronze bust of La Nature with golden earrings, a porphyry ornament on the head (…)'.
At the beginning of the 1960s, only the bust made in 1901 for the décor of the Fouquet jewel shop was known. The shop was taken down in 1920 and purchased by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. It is kept today at the musée Carnvalet. Its silhouette is close to the La Nature bust but is more ethereal and noticeably different in many ways. At this time, Mucha’s sculptures were almost unknown and were for the most par either lost or not localized. It was not until 1965 and an article published in Connaissance des Arts 'La vie des objets/un second buste de Mucha est retrouvé' (The Life of Objects, a second bust by Mucha has been found), that La Nature was discovered and talked about again. In 1965 this example belonged to Valentin Abdy. He sold it to Robert Walker before it was purchased by the collectors Sydney and Francis Lewis who gave it to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1985 where it is still kept today.
On November 3 1971, Sotheby’s Belgravia in London sold a second version of Nature with an ornament and earrings in malachite. Today, it is part of the Gillon Crowet collection, and exhibited at the Musée Fin de Siècle in Brussels.
Around 1972-73, the collector and dealer Ferdinand Wolfgang Neess purchased from Dépôt 15 in Paris a third example of La Nature which is today kept at the Badisches Landes Museum in Karlsruhe.
Ferdinand Wolfgang Neess had also purchased from the dealer Robert Walker at the beginning of the 1970s another version of La Nature, the only example to have earrings in the form of a pearl and rose circle similar to the bronze model exhibited in 1900. It also has a two-toned patina and a lapis-lazuli ornament on the tiara. It will be presented in the Neess Collection at the Wiesbaden Museum from the end of June 2019.
On June 17 1988, Sotheby’s London presented another bust in a mat patina by the Art Nouveau dealer and collector Victor Arwas who very probably sold it to a Japanese collector. To our knowledge, this version is part of the Sakai Government collection, Japan.
On December 6 2002, in New York again at Sotheby’s, a new example of La Nature was presented for auction. It established a world record for a bronze work by Mucha, attaining 807,000$.
Rediscovered only recently, our bronze was purchased at the end of the 1990s in Paris before being sold and kept in a private European collection until today. It is the only example, together with two others known listed above, to be in private collections.
Philippe Jullian in his book 'Esthètes et magiciens' from 1969 described in the following words this 'Belle Dame sans merci', the archetype of end of the century womanhood:
‘With her enigmatic expression, her closed eyes, focused on an inner world of reverie, the symbolist woman evokes chimeric images haunted by death, witchcraft and the widespread cult of the absorption of hallucinatory drugs.
The Art Nouveau woman, as for her, only offered a pale reflection of this theme in the end. The femme fatal was done away with: she was replaced by a disheveled enchantress. Woman’s new role fell to allegory. Although always symbolist, she now personified ideals such as Justice, Faith, Truth or Progress. Indeed, she can be seen brandishing a torch as the embodiment of Progress as she transforms into the Electricity Fairy.’
This emblematic bust could not be better described. Indeed, except the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts copy, the one at the Badisches Landes Museum in Karlsruhe and the one sold in 2002, the different examples listed above all seem to originally have had a light bulb at the place of the tiara’s stone ornament. Our example still has a part of the original socket it held. This explains the hole situated on the back of the bust which appears on the three casts sold by Sotheby’s and also on the one in the Neess collection. Thus this major work symbolized in 1900 not only ‘the invention of the incandescent lamp’ but ‘by extension, the triumph of science’
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