Émile-Antoine Bourdelle 1861-1929
Emile-Antoine Bourdelle was born in Montauban on 30 October 1861. He was the only son of Emilie Reille, the daughter of a weaver, and Antoine Bourdelle, a carpenter and cabinet maker who sculpted the furniture he designed. At school, the child showed such a gift for drawing that his teacher, Mr Rousset, allowed him to express himself freely, "sitting in a kind of hall, away from the rest of the class" (Bourdelle, Ecrits sur l'art et sur la vie - Writings on Art and Life).
Aged 13, Bourdelle joined his father's studio as an apprentice. In the evening, he took drawing classes in Montauban, where he learned modelling techniques based on the study of copies of antique plaster casts. The young cabinet maker's skill soon earned him the recognition of art lovers in Montauban. In 1876, he was given a scholarship and passed the entrance examination for the Toulouse School of Fine Arts.
Bourdelle experienced eight years of solitude and feverish work during his studies in Toulouse, tempered by the discipline of academic institution. Following his success in the entrance examination for the Paris School of Fine Arts in 1884, where he came second, Bourdelle entered Alexandre Falguière's studio and left two years later : "I have had enough ! I do not understand all these systems of prizes and competitions".
In 1885, he moved into the studio on 16, impasse du Maine - which is now the museum. That same year, his paster cast of La Première victoire d'Hannibal (The First Victory of Hannibal) won a medal at the Salon of French Artists. It brought him recognition but Bourdelle still had to earn a living. In 1893, Rodin hired him as a "praticien" (sculptor's assistant). The two men respected each other and the collaboration proved to be a decisive one. In 1895, Bourdelle was commissioned by his hometown to make Monument aux combattants et défenseurs du Tarn-et-Garonne de 1870-1871 ("Monument to the fighters and defenders of Tarn-et-Garonne of 1870-1871") in which he expressed an intense and very personal lyricism.
In 1900, Bourdelle decorated the theatre of the Grevin Museum, at the request of its director, Gabriel Thomas, with masks and a low relief for the top of the stage : Les nuées (The clouds).
That year, with Rodin and the sculptor Desbois, he founded a free sculpture school in Montparnasse. In his attempt to find his own way, Bourdelle freed himself from the style of Rodin. His Tête d'Apollon (Head of Apollo), which he began that year, shows a different way of thinking : "I broke away from the accidental, in search of the permanent plane" (Bourdelle, Ecrits sur l'art et sur la vie - Writings on Art and Life).
In 1905, the foundry owner Hébrard invited him to exhibit in his Parisian gallery on Rue Royale. The artist's first personal exhibition included 39 sculptures, 18 paintings and 21 drawings. Elie Faure wrote the catalogue's preface. Bourdelle also exhibited at the Salon d'Automne for the first time with 15 works including the bronze version of Pallas. He left Rodin's studio in 1908.
In 1909, Bourdelle started teaching at the Grande Chaumière Academy, where his students included Alberto Giacometti, Germaine Richier, Vieira da Silva and Otto Gutfreund.
Exhibited in 1910 at the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts, Bourdelle's Héraklès archer (Hercules the Archer) was acclaimed by the public and the critics. Many museums asked to display the masterpiece and it was reproduced everywhere, even in children's school books.
Gabriel Thomas gave Bourdelle another commission, this time for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (1910-1913) : at turns architects, sculptor and painter, Bourdelle once more proved his capacity "to conceive of everything as a monument".
The decade of 1919-1929 proved a time of great official commissions : La Vierge à l'offrande (1919-1923; "The Virgin of the offering") erected in Alsace and La France (1925) in front of the Grand Palais for the Decorative Arts Exhibition. Monument au général Alvéar ("Monument to general Alvear") was inaugurated in Buenos Aires in 1926, and Monument à Adam Mickiewic (Monument to Adam Mickiewic) in Paris, on 28 April 1929.