Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)

The influential French sculptor, painter, and draftsman Emile-Antoine Bourdelle was born in Montauban, France, and began working in sculpture around age thirteen as a woodcarver in his father’s cabinet-making shop. [1] Montauban had also been the birthplace of the painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and as a youth Bourdelle studied drawing with the founder of the Musée Ingres there. At age fifteen he won a scholarship for admission to the École des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse, where he studied sculpture. At twenty-four Bourdelle won a scholarship to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he worked in the studio of the sculptor and painter Alexandre Falguière. In rebellion against academic training, Bourdelle left the École after two years and moved into a house on the Impasse du Main which is now the Musée Bourdelle. From 1893 to 1908 he worked as an assistant in the studio of Auguste Rodin. It was during this period that Bourdelle completed his first major commission, the War Memorial at Montauban (1895-1902).

Over the course of his career Bourdelle’s sculpture comprised figural work inspired by classical Greek art, portraits, and commissions for public monuments in Paris and throughout France. He worked in a traditional style characterized by a quest for order and simplicity of line, mass, and modeling. His early bronzes are dramatic and expressive, with massive forms and rough surfaces. About 1909 Bourdelle developed a more classical style. That year he joined the Académie de la Grande Chamière, where he became a highly respected teacher and worked for the remainder of his life. [2] Though he is principally known as a sculptor, Bourdelle also made a significant number of paintings and drawings—mostly portraits and figure compositions, but also a small number of landscapes and an even smaller number of still lifes. [3]

[1] See Carol Marc Lavrillier and Michel Dufet, Bourdelle et la Critique de Son Temps, reprint (Paris: Paris Musées Éditions, 1992).

[2] See Helena Staub, Bourdelle et Ses Élèves: Giacometti, Richier, Gutfreund, exh. cat. (Paris: Paris Musées Éditions, 1998).

[3] For his paintings, see Jean Selz, Bourdelle Peintre 1861-1929 (Paris: 666 Éditions, 1986). For drawings, see Stéphane Cantarutti, Antoine Bourdelle—que du dessin, exh. cat. (Paris: Paris Musées Éditions, 2011).

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