Sue Slick, Collection Information Specialist
We’ve recently featured our fantastic bronze figures – FWMoA has about three dozen of them now! In the spring of 2021 Bronze: The Artistic Interest showcased several of them, including our Alexandre Falguière (French, 1831-1900) sculpture of a young woman with a bow, who we then called Diana, and our J. Scott Hartley (American 1845-1912) Football Player. Both of these sprightly athletes, each poised on one foot with arm raised, frozen in motion, factor into this story. Diana emerged from the vault again last October to spend some time in our Karl S. and Ella L. Bolander Gallery alongside other bronze treasures including The Moods of Time by Paul Manship and La Fleur de Glaciers by Julien Caussé. They are there now along with Christ Rising by Frederic Hart and Adagio by Milton Hebald.
When our huntress reemerged, FWMoA Technical Director Brian Williamson drew attention to her broken bow, proposing that we have her conserved to get her hunting gear repaired – the bow broke long ago, some time before her arrival. As Brian was researching Falguière’s sculptures, gathering information for the repair, he discovered that this figure, which was reproduced quite a few times, appeared in a search with a title quite different from ours. Others do also call her Diana, but, as Brian discovered, the National Gallery calls her Nymphe Chasseresse (Hunting Nymphe). He also noted that most examples of the piece at this size have broken bows!
Our bronze hunter was a donation, and like so many works of art from previous homes, before her arrival at FWMoA her original name was lost. This is one reason institutions place so much importance on provenance, or the history of a piece, not only for authentication purposes but to ensure the most basic of information, like a title, is correct. We have had our Diana or Hunting Nymph for quite a long time, since 1932, when she was given to the museum by Fred Shoaff. In fact, according to our catalogue, she is among the earliest bronze figural sculptures collected by FWMoA and was given by the Shoaffs along with a lovely marble bust of a young woman, Marguerite. Adagio, mentioned above, was also given by the Shoaffs.
Falguière was a prolific sculptor, working in France from the 1850s-1890s. His nude female figures brought him much acclaim, revenue, awards, and even some harsh criticism for being a little too life-like; a chaste Diana is the ideal, after all, and Falguière’s “girls” were so life-like that their models could be named – scandalous! Though Falguière brought to life several forms of Diana he also produced nymphs and other goddesses, sometimes conflating classical characters with other members of the pantheon of gods and goddesses. He also liked to give his classical figures a modern look – stylish hair-dos and cute, flirty expressions that strayed from the austere and pure immortal figures the public and critics were accustomed to in that era.
It’s not surprising that this hunting figure was dubbed Diana; after all, Diana was a favorite and popular subject for Monsieur Falguière – he sculpted her over and over in a variety of poses and expressions. All of Falguière’s goddesses tended to be “earthy rather than heavenly”; this got him into hot water more than once, stirring up controversy and drawing lots of attention to his work. His 1882 Diana is among the most reproduced 19th century French bronzes – though the critics found fault with her realness, plumpness, and haughty attitude. Apparently, the public loved her beauty and personality.
Our lady certainly looks Diana-ish in her energetic dash with bow in hand, ready to aim, though her bouncy “up-do” lacks Diana’s usual crescent moon decoration. As goddess of the moon, Diana rarely appears without this adornment – the missing moon may be a clue to our girl’s real identity. So, what is the source of her proper name? I reached out to the National Gallery to find out, and their scholars traced her title, Nymphe Chasseresse (Hunting Nymphe), to the Paris Salon 1884 catalogue and an 1884 article that mentions the piece. Of course, I’m geeking out reading this wonderful email revealing the primary source of her title. In my imagination, I’m seeing world-renowned mythology scholar and Fort Wayne native Edith Hamilton strolling through the gallery and remarking, “Why, of course that is not Diana! She is obviously a forest nymph!”
But I digress; this is how Emily Pegues, National Gallery Assistant Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, replied to my query:
We have followed the title used in the 1884 Salon catalogue (‘Nymphe chasseresse,’ number 3503, p. 316) where the plaster life-size original was displayed; this formulation was repeated in a July 1884 article in Gazette des Beaux-Arts by De Fourand. Falguière’s subsequent 1888 marble version derived from that plaster, as did this smaller bronze, with some changes in composition afforded by the tensile strength of bronze, such as making the pose more precarious on tiptoe, and extending the left leg horizontally.
Another bronze (with a complete bow) in a private collection in New York was also published in Janson’s Nineteenth Century Sculpture (1985) as ‘Hunting Nymph.’
Sculptors often created their Salon pieces in plaster first and in marble later– for good reason. When Salon expositions were held in the upper levels of the Louvre, plaster pieces were much easier to install than life-size marble figures. If a piece was well-received, the artist or patron(s) might then pay to have it carved in marble. Many were also reproduced in reductions (scaled down versions) of bronze, terra cotta, or plaster for mass consumption. Falguière’s 1882 Diana was so popular the piece was reproduced not as a full figure, but as a parlor-sized bust in bronze. At least one Diana was even made into a lamp!
It’s interesting to me that Falguière chose to follow his controversial Diana with an even saucier and earthy mythological being – not a goddess, but a creature of the forest portrayed as a modern girl with modern curls and a sweet, carefree smile! She is on the hunt, but less encumbered by the weight of the world than her superior. Nymphs, Diana’s maids, were humble creatures tasked with the care of the forest groves and their denizens. They accompanied Diana and her hunting dogs in pursuit of deer through the forest, often pursued themselves by eager satyrs. Just google “Diana and nymphs” to see dozens of beautiful works based on these beings!
Nymphe Chasseresse can still be seen in her large-scale glory in Toulouse, but, like her predecessor, Diana, she was introduced in the smaller bronze edition after her debut in plaster and her glorious rebirth in marble. As Emily Pegues described, when she was recreated and scaled down in bronze, her pose changed slightly which permitted her to defy gravity just a bit more than she could in her larger plaster and marble forms. Her small bronze form does turn up from time to time in auctions and other collections, but almost always with a broken bow and often with the title Diana.
When our Nymphe Chasseresse goes away for repair later this year, her place will be taken by the Jonathon Scott Hartley figure mentioned at the beginning of this tale. Our football player was made in the same era as our huntress but did not join the Hunting Nymph in our collection until 1976. And, ironically or not, the correct name of this piece was not confirmed until the Diana/Nymph information quest got underway – we were simply calling him The Football Player. Brian and I were having a conversation about the Hartley piece and thought we should do a similar investigation into this wonderful American sculpture’s history, but I’ll approach that end zone in another post. Hint: his proper title is Nearing the Goal!
Alexandre Falguière Timeline
- Born in Toulouse on 7 September 1831.
- Studied both painting and sculpture the Toulouse École des Beaux-Arts.
- In 1853, he was awarded the Toulouse municipal prize for sculpture, which allowed him to study at the Beaux-Arts in Paris,
- In 1854 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts and won the Prix de Rome in 1859.
- In 1864 submitted to the Salon: le Vainqueur au combat de coqs.
- Returned to Paris from Rome in 1867, earning great praise for his Salon submission Tracisius.
- Was appointed Officer of the Légion of Honor in 1878, and in 1889 becoming a “commandeur” of that order.
- Was made a member of the Académie Française in 1882 and, in the same year, was made professor at the École des Beaux-arts.
- In 1870, with Paris under siege by the Prussian army, Alexandre Falguière enrolled in the National Guard.
- During the 1880s he focused on Salon submissions and commissions.
- Became a member of the Institut de France (Académie des Beaux-Arts) in 1882.
- Falguière died in Paris in 1900 and was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery, where his monument was designed by his pupil Marqueste.
- Both a metro station and a street in Paris’ 15th arrondisement are named for him.
- 19th-century Sculpture, H. W. Janson, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 1985.
- Paris Salon 1884, exhibition catalogue.
- The Art Institute of Chicago Exhibition of Small Bronzes by American Sculptors: February Eight to Twenty-Seventh Nineteen Hundred and Ten, Organized by the National Sculpture Society, New York, exhibition catalogue, 1910.