Antoine Bourdelle: sculptures, biography of the sculptor

Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)

 Antoine Bourdelle

Emil-Antoine Bourdelle – the largest sculptor-monumentalist of the first half of this century.

His influence was experienced by many major plastic craftsmen, art sculptors were trained in his workshop and beginning Russian sculptors, for example Vera Ignatyevna Mukhina. Prominent Soviet art historian BN Ternovets, also trained in sculpture from Bourdelle in Paris in the early 10-ies, wrote: “In my memory, Burdel gets up, coming in the morning to proofread in an impatiently waiting workshop; the first remarks are abrupt, laconic … And then always the unexpected association of thought or image ignites his imagination … The internal logic of the eloquence of Burdel led him to exaggerations, accentuations, maximum expressiveness – showing here the same pattern that is revealed in his sculptural work .. During this period of the beginning of fame the earnings of a teacher of a private academy could not interest Bourdelle at all; but he loved school, willingly fussed with students, sometimes visiting exhibitions with them, taking them in his studio, his living nature required communication, expression outside; listeners were necessary to him, the speech he uttered, lit first of all himself. In this desire to teach and edify, the same need, which sought the expression of expression, directed the sculptor and Burdel, attracted him to monumental forms that enabled him to appeal to the masses with a sermon and a call. ”

Burdel led a sculptural workshop in an art school on the street Grand-Shomiere. Usually he came to the “proof”, that is, to do the corrections of the students’ works, on Thursdays. Among the students were people of many nationalities. About twelve days, one of the students, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his master, announced his appearance. Bourdelle entered, dressed in a dark gray broad blouse, with a smile on his face. And then, as one of his disciples recalled, “a deafening noise is heard, like the roar of distant waves: each strives to squeeze closer, to make his way between the machine tools and the students as close as possible to the great sculptor.”

Burdel himself was an assistant to the great Rodin in his youth. Burdel bowed before his predecessor, but at the heart of his art lay other ideals. Burdel strove for a strict architectonic form. The images of the heroes of his sculpture are reserved, sometimes severe. His works were works of Greek antiquity – a clear harmonious classics and a mean, slightly heavy archaic. The sculptures of Burdel were full of solemn pathetic and grandeur, his artistic language was laconic and expressive.

One of the first works in which Burdel tried to revive the spirit of antiquity was the “Head of Apollo”, performed in 1900. Burdel worked on it not according to the patterns in the Louvre, but having before him a specific sitter. Apollo is the sun god, the leader of the muses. There were traditions of his portrayal in European art, it is enough to recall the famous Apollo Belvedere, with his spectacular gesture of the outstretched hand, with which the folds of the cloak fall. In Burdel, Apollo does not strike with his beauty, but with masculinity, his image is calm and balanced, he feels an inner spiritual strength.

The idea of ​​the power of ancient gods and heroes is embedded in other works of Bourdelle.

1909 Burdel performed a bronze sculpture, two and a half meters high – “Hercules the Archer”. The basis for the sculpture was an episode associated with the sixth feat of Hercules. Hercules expelled the Stimphalian birds with sharp iron feathers, which were rooted in a forest swamp near the town of Stymphal in Arcadia and devoured people. Hercules received special copper rattles from the goddess Athena, scared the birds, made them fly into the air and shot them. “Hercules”, or as this sculpture is also called, “Shooting Hercules” is an image of strength, speed and movement, and at the same time a balanced composition that rigidly fits like a relief into a narrow space between two parallel planes.

In “Hercules”, as in the “Discobol” of Myron, combines two moments of motion. The athlete and pulls the imaginary string of the giant bow, aiming, and already as if watching the flight of the released arrow. Burdel resorts to a complex construction of the figure. The reference point for the figure of the archer is the right knee, and with his left foot Hercules seems to be repelled from the upright spur of the rock. Powerful movement from right to left – the effort of the right hand pulling the bowstring – is connected with the direction of movement from left to right, underlined by the look of Hercules, its profile squashed and pointed, like the arrowhead.

The silhouette of the whole figure is angular, in its sharpened sharpness a frozen clot energy, cast in hot bronze. For all the complexity of the composition, the sculpture remains spread like a bas-relief.

Although Burdel refers to the ancient story and uses the traditions of ancient Greek art, his work belongs entirely to the twentieth century. It embodies the expression and tension that were characteristic features of the artistic worldview of the beginning of the century.

Antiquity, to which Burdel often turned during his work, helped the master restore to the sculpture the high syllable, civicism and pathetic lost during the decline of spatial arts in XIX century. But the heroics of antiquity was far from the tragic collisions of the 20th century.

In 1914, Burdel creates a sculpture “The Dying Centaur”, on the base of which he makes the inscription: “The Death of the Last Centaur.” In contrast to the “Hercules”, in which the image of antiquity was revealed as a holistic and triumphant, “The Dying Centaur”, a symbol of a creature with dual nature, personified in the human torso and horse’s rump, means the departure from the stage of ancient heroes. The ascetic interpretation of the male torso in the Centaur reminds us not of the fullness of the forms of antiquity, but of the medieval crucifixes of Christ.

An attempt to create a monument in honor of the hero of modern times became for Burdel a monument to General Alvear. General Alvear is the leader of the struggle for the independence of Argentina. The monument, over which Burdel worked from 1912 to 1923, was installed in Buenos Aires.

At the heart of the composition of the monument to Alvear lay the idea of ​​an allegorical work. The equestrian statue of the general, five-and-a-half meters high, was placed by Burdel on a high granite pedestal, at four corners of which stood the four-meter figures of the Force, Victory, Freedom and Eloquence. The image of Alvear – a rider on horseback – dates back to the Renaissance tradition of statues of condottieri, as, for example, the monument of Colleoni in Venice by the work of Verrocchio.

The classics of monumental sculpture of the 20th century became figures embodying the dignity and strength of a glorious warrior. Above these sculptures, Burdel worked at a time when the events of the First World War were unfolding in Europe. It was a time when many artists and writers experienced a spiritual crisis, former ideals collapsed, former comrades-in-arms were separated by the front line.

Burdel strove to continue in his art the service of goodness, courage and beauty. His plastic language became even stricter, the forms even more concise. High figures, like pillars, with elongated proportions are perceived as watchful sentries guarding the freedom won by the people. “Victory” is a warrior-maiden, wearing a tunic, with a sword in her hands. Above this statue the sculptor worked in Paris, when he was fired upon by the Germans. Refusing to leave the city, he said: “When I finish, I’ll go. “Victory” is my way of fighting. ”

Just as in his workshop, Burdel taught the students the basics of art sculpture, and in his work he wanted to give a lesson of citizenship and loyalty to humanistic ideals. The conditions in which the sculptor worked, did not allow his monumental talent to develop fully, gave rise to inconsistency in his aspirations. But he was one of the first who turned to people in the language of plastics, consonant with the scale of the social collisions of time. Burdel was not only the author of the monuments, he was one of the largest portrait painters, he decorated the public buildings with the reliefs (the Theater des Champs Elysees in Paris), he was a great draftsman, an art connoisseur.

Sculptural works by Antoine Bourdelle

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