Los Angeles

Antoine Bourdelle

Otis Art Institution Gallery

Overshadowed by Rodin, Maillol, Despiau and others, the career of Bourdelle (1861–1929) is offered for reassessment in a showing of twenty-six drawings and fifty-nine bronzes. Working out few motifs of a genre or allegorical vein, an executor of several major commissions, and an enthusiastic teacher (of Richier and Giacometti), his work is the product of highly placed and unabashed eclecticism. Proficient in all the prevailing 19th-century modes of naturalism (Mask of a Smiling Girl) realism (in Maternity) neoclassicism (in M. Charmaux au Chinen) and a baroque romanticism (in Beethoven—A Tragic Mask,) other more important aspects mark his individual power.

In the small figure studies, finished versions, busts and monumental heads and several larger figures, one may find, for all the modes, stylistic consistencies. Planal development is strong, as is movement. The pieces possess roughly modeled surfaces based in the working of materials, and in keeping with the generalized treatment. While respecting mass and density, the surface at times suggests painterliness, with Daumier and Renoir coming immediately to mind. Feeling is infused into even the small studies through slight disjointings and distortion.

Alternating between over-emphasis and restraint, a common characteristic is complete concentration of mood, the idea being always paramount. And, in tribute to his mastery, this enveloping idea is conveyed from any viewing angle. His major projects included a Franco-Prussian War Memorial at Montauban, a Beethoven series, the equestrian Alvear Monument in Buenos Aires, and the famed Heracles the Archer. Thus are heroism, nobility, dignity, anguish, languor, and athletic vigor the Bourdelle vocabulary of forms. The narrow range of his lofty subjects’ psyche and emotions is set back, within his sustained achievement of the purely visual and monumental. Nowhere is this accomplishment of the drama of silent sound (as of the Laocoon) more clear than in the Head of Eloquence or the Fighter of Moritauban. His outstanding skill is in the rendition of such mute but essential gestures. In fact, his creations are public representations of symbolic mimes accompanied by props, reminiscent of the theatrical. If he is never sublime, Bourdelle is none the less solid, grand, and universal.

Fidel A. Danieli