Friday, July 21, 2017

Bourdelle's "La France": Montauban copy

When I first saw Bourdelle's La France in Paris in 2011(on LoS), it encompassed a lot of what I was writing about at the time.  A strong woman as an embodiment of France, a serpent, pillars, and a triangle.

There are four bronze castings of the sculpture made from the original maquette, and the Paris version is the fourth (dedicated June 14, 1948).  Another is in Montauban, the capital of the Tarn-et-Garonne, just a short hop up the road from chez moi.  This second casting was dedicated on November 13, 1932.  It has plaques commemorating every conflict from WWI to 21st-century military actions in places such as Chad and ex-Yugoslavia, a couple of names each on small votive plaques compared to the hundreds of names around the base naming the staggering number of victims of the Great War.  If you examine my not-so-great photographs, you'll see that for some reason in version two the spear carried by the Athena-like woman is longer than version four, the spearhead seems slightly different, and it certainly isn't hung with the two wreaths one sees on the Paris casting.

The third version is also quite a bit different, as it (quoting myself):

had originally been placed at the entrance of the "foire d'Alger." After the foire, it was put on the terrace of the Musée de Beaux-Arts, where she scrutinized the Mediterranean.  This one has the most storied history.
As a symbol of de Gaulle, the statue was blown up on the evening of November 26, 1961 by the OAS (Organisation armée secrète), a far-right group who despised de Gaulle for what they perceived as his treason towards Algeria, then a French Department, after his actions led to Algerian independence in 1962.  The socle was pulverized and the statue damaged. 
After this symbolic attack, the pieces were collected and stored until the statue could be repaired.  The French ambassador obtained permission to recover the statue but the French administration refused to pay for the transport cost, instead foisting the responsibility upon Paris' Bourdelle museum.  It was eventually taken to be repaired but the part of the support which depicted the snakes, as well as that part of the lance which held the olive branches, were too damaged to be repaired.  This lance was later sawed down in order for it to fit inside the museum of the Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan military academy.
So.  Not much new, I just happened to stumble upon La France (#2) in Montauban recently, after having forgotten my idea to try and hunt it down after reading about it while researching the one in Paris.  The different castings each has its own history, and I was surprised to learn they had originally been cast for different kinds of monuments. For example the original maquette was made to commemorate the US' entry into the First World War.  The project floundered but half-sized casting was exposed at the Salon in 1923.  In 1925 the full-sized, 9m version was cast for use in an expo, after which it was acquired by Briançon, where it stands alone as the city's war memorial.  The second was made directly for Montauban's monument aux morts.  The commission for the Montauban monument, described as a "temple," was given to Bourdelle in 1921, but the monument was not completed until 1930, a year after Bourdelle's death.  The third sat outside a museum in Algiers, was dynamited by the OAS and then reassembled for another museum, inside this time, and mutilated, at the École St-Cyr.  Number four honors the Free French and "the call" of June 18 by de Gaulle, and was privately funded.  The OAS must have been thrilled.

In addition to the four 9m casts, there are also some 4.6m casts held by various museums.

Apparently Bourdelle considered La France to be his greatest work, which is saying something, considering that Bourdelle's body of work is impressive in both quantity and quality.  If you look at his lifespan, 1861-1929, the radical modernity of his work is especially striking.  It's really kind of surprising he's not as well-known as say, Rodin, an admirer.  I'm lucky that quite a few of his sculptures dot Montauban.  La France is only one of many Bourdelle's works to be found in and around the historic city center near what is now a museum for another native son, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

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