The collections : David d'Angers' gallery
David d’Angers (Angers, 1788 – Paris, 1856)
Born in Angers in 1788, the son of a sculptor, and ardent defender of Republican values, the young Pierre-Jean David quickly made a reputation for himself at the École de Dessin in Angers. He moved to Paris to attend the École Impériale des Beaux-Arts in 1807 where he frequented the studios of sculptor, Philippe-Laurent Roland and the painter Jacques-Louis David. He applied for the Prix de Rome and was awarded this prestigious scholarship in 1811. He stayed in Italy for four years and while there, discovered ancient art, which had a profound influence on him. Upon his return to Paris in 1817, he became caught up with the artistic and political trends of his day and attracted attention at the Salon. In 1820, as a symbol of gratitude for the stipend he had up until then received from the city of Angers for his studies, he donated his works, mostly in the form of workshop plaster models to the Angers Musée des Beaux-Arts.
The sculptor’s monuments to Bonchamps, inaugurated in 1825 and to General Foy brought him overwhelming official success. He was elected member of the Institut de France and named Professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1826. Fascinated by important figures, he traveled throughout France and Europe to model the busts of his contemporaries from the political, literary and artistic spheres. His Arc de Triomphe of Marseille, inaugurated in 1835 and the pediment of the Panthéon, executed between 1830 and 1837, established him as an official sculptor. He received commission upon commission and produced some forty or so monumental sculptures for different French cities and towns throughout his lifetime.
David added ‘d’Angers’ [Translator’s note: meaning of or from Angers] to his family name and from 1839, a gallery bearing his name was opened at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Angers. A staunch Republican and fervent advocate of human rights, David d’Angers’ political inclinations were voiced through his writings and his choice of subjects or models for his work. He participated in the 1848 revolution and was consequently forced to leave France in 1851. He returned to France shortly before his death in Paris in 1856.
In 1984, François Mitterand, then President of the French Republic, inaugurated the newly restored Toussaint abbey church and the Galerie David d’Angers.
Monumental works and drawings
David d’Angers’ work is scattered throughout France and Europe. Therefore, the main interest of the gallery in Angers is that it showcases the quasi-totality of his sculptures as plaster models, the preparatory studies for the final work, the latter being cast in bronze or sculpted in marble and stone. The plaster models convey the ideas and gestures of the artist. Typically, these are destroyed after the final work is completed. David d’Angers, and later his family however, donated these to the museum of his home town. Other works, in marble, terracotta and bronze, as well as some 3,000 drawings constitute a complete monographic museum.
In the nave, 23 monumental statues are exhibited, Jean Bart for Dunkerque, Gutenberg for Strasbourg, as well as the masterly Marquis de Bonchamps for the tomb of the general at Saint Florent le Vieil in his native Vendée. The artist’s model of the third pediment of the Panthéon is also exhibited and features those figures, who according to David, best illustrated the Republican phrase: ‘Aux grands hommes, la Patrie reconnaissante’ [Translator’s note: ‘To the great men, the grateful homeland’].
Wood is the predominant material in the chancel, where smaller works and pieces by a young David d’Angers are displayed. In the glass cases, 47 statuettes are exhibited, along with drawings that illustrate the evolution of the sculptor’s creative process.
Busts and medallions
On the intimate mezzanine level of the chancel, visitors can discover a range of figures from the Romantic period, immortalized by David d’Angers.
Forty four busts are exhibited – preparatory studies for the final sculpted works in marble or bronze – in various materials: terracotta and plaster. The terracotta pieces, sculpted or shaped by the artist’s hand particularly highlight the envelope of flesh. The plaster models convey the vital force captured in the subject’s wrinkles and imperfections. The absence of a gaze adds to the timelessness of the figures: ‘you have captured my immortality’, wrote Victor Hugo to the artist.
Life-size or larger, the busts are typically represented without clothing; only rarely is the apparel of the day or a significant accessory visible. Thus, David concentrated fully on the facial expression of his subject, the physical structure or shape of the skull demonstrating, according to the physiognomic theories in vogue at the time, the subject’s intrinsic character or spirit. ‘Therefore, man’s interior being is revealed to me. The physical is illuminated by the moral’, wrote David with regards to the bust of Chateaubriand. In Paris, where he frequented salons, or overseas, David had intellectuals, politicians, writers (Balzac, Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo, etc.), artists and scientists, as well as some women, pose for him. All of these figures have marked the history of the 19th century through their works or deeds.
A hundred or so bronze medallions are displayed in a glass cabinet offering striking portraits of the Romantic generation (George Sand, Rouget de l’Isle, the German poet and philosopher Goethe, etc.). The technique of cast bronze medallions, small disks rarely exceeding 25 cm in diameter, was used by David d’Angers for almost 550 effigies. The subjects of these medallions were chosen for their friendship with the artist, their renown, or for the contribution of their works and actions. In order to better capture the model’s psychological make-up, the artist had his subject pose in profile, similar to the representation of figures on medals and coins. It was at this time that the invention of photography would permanently change the representation of the subject.
A classical technique, these sculptures illustrate David d’Angers’ desire to leave to posterity the effigies of those men who have shaped history. All were militant advocates of human rights and the independence of nations. Thus, David reflects a trend born in the first half of the 19th century that continues to endure to this day…
The catalogue: David d’Angers portraitiste (David d’Angers: Portraitist)
(Summary catalogue of Jean-Pierre David d’Angers’ busts at the Galerie David d’Angers)
Texts and essays by Patrick le Nouëne, Catherine Lesseur, Véronique Boidard.
167 pages, €24.
Throughout his life, David d’Angers was fascinated by ‘les grands hommes’ and was inspired by their genius. His models included illustrious poets, writers, artists, composers, architects, politicians, lawyers and learned figures of the day. The Galerie David d’Angers conserves 131 busts by the sculptor, in terracotta, marble, bronze and plaster. This catalogue, published in 2010, presents a selection of the artist’s oeuvre, as well as showcasing and studying the work and collections of David d’Angers, at the Galerie David d’Angers.