FRANCOIS POMPON ( 1855 - 1933)
Born 9 May 1855, in Saulieu; died 6 May 1933, in Paris.
François Pompon’s father was a cabinet maker in Saulieu, Burgundy. He taught him his trade and placed him with the local marble mason to learn stone-carving before sending him to École des Beaux-Arts in Dijon.
In Dijon, he studied architecture and sculpture under Dameron as well as the rudiments of engraving under Célestin Nanteuil. He produced at that time several engravings in the style of Watteau. In 1874, the recipient of a local award, he set off for Paris where he continued to learn and lived from his trade. He set up shop in Paris in the Rue Campagne-Premiére and formed connections with the developers who were transforming Paris at the time of Napoleon III. By providing decorative figures for façades and caryatids for the Hôtel de Ville, Pompon perfected his technique in the work-place. In the evening, he attended the local art school studying under Aimé Millet and Caillé, and meeting wildlife sculptor Rouillard who encouraged him. His talent was first spotted by Mercié, author of the Gloria Victis, whose assistant he became before working for Falguière and finally Rodin with whom he remained for 15 years.
In his work, shape and form came second to light which Pompon celebrated through the finish of his surfaces. So unable to render the whiteness that had so struck him in a goose, to make it white, he played with the bird’s reliefs, causing them to lose depth and achieving a balance of masses dictated by light. When Rodin, his mentor, was shown the work in 1908, he said: ‘You will be a great artist’. Pompon continued to sculpt for others until 1914, while pursuing his own work in his tiny workshop. Pressed by his commercial activity, he rarely had time enough to sculpt the human face, but he has left a few figures, including one of his wife. Recognition came in 1922 with Polar Bear. He used to go to the botanical gardens in the morning to sketch, and concentrate on the final version in his workshop in the afternoon. Colette wrote an article about him and Robert Rey, head of the École des Beaux-Arts, an important book. His Stag, and Pelican date from that time. The Bull commissioned by the city of Paris would be his last work.
He featured in various Paris Salons including the Salon des Artists Français where he showed Cosette, a character from Les Misérables; Salon d’Automne with White Bear (1922). In his will François Pompon gave the 300 pieces of his work to the French State; these were first housed in the Musée Pompon at the Jardin des Plantes before being transferred to the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne, Dijon.
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