Stamped Fondeur Barbedienne
Gilt and Patinated Bronze
Height: 11.4" (29 cm)
Conceived in 1872 and cast within the artist's lifetime
Antonin Mercié was born in Toulouse and begun his studies under François Jouffroy and Alexandre Falguière – two of the most respected artists in 19th-century France. He was a precious talent, winning the Grand Prix de Rome in 1868, at the age of 23.
By the time he left for Italy, Mercié was already well versed in the work of contemporary French neo-Renaissance sculptors, particularly that of his master Falguière and Paul Dubois. These artists had gained great success during the 1860s and 1870s. Mercié himself would later become one of the leading figures of this group, known as Les Florentins, greatly thanks to the success of the present model, David.
Indeed, while the present work was modelled during Mercié’s stay in Rome, the sculptural blueprint of this piece is unmistakably Florentine, showing the influence for Donatello’s David and Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa.
Donatello, David, ca 1440, Museo Nazionale del Bargello
Benvenuto Cellini, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1545-1554, Loggia dei Lanzi (Florence)
Mercié sent the plaster model from Rome to Paris in 1872 where it was exhibited with enormous success. The sculptor not only receive the first-class medal but also the distinction of being the first artist to win the Cross of the Legion of Honour while still at the Academy in Rome – the first artist to ever receive this endorsement while studying.
The mannerist twist and classical subject matter were not lost on the educated French public, and by 1874 the Barbedienne foundry had begun producing reductions of the model in six different sizes for the collectors’ market. The present example is a rare example of the smaller of these reductions.
A life-size model was cast by the Thiebaut foundry and exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1878. It was acquired by the Musée de Luxembourg and is now housed in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay. Another life-size model, incorporating a leaf to cover David’s genitalia is in the collection of the Musee des Augustins, Toulouse.
Antonin Mercié, David, circa 1872, bronze, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
The influence of the present model, and Mercié’s popular revival of the neo-Renaissance style, cannot be underestimated. Indeed, a decade after Mercié first exhibited his David, the young English sculptor Alfred Gilbert modelled Perseus Arming while travelling through Italy. Gilbert too had seen Cellini and Donatello’s great masterpieces in Florence, but the contemporary resurgence of interest in classical mythology and mannerist modelling, particularly the contrapposto twist, must in some part be credited to Mercié and his fellow Florentins.
Alfred Gilbert, Perseus Arming, conceived in 1881 and cast in 1892, Bowman Sculpture
More directly still, in 1880, the young Frederick William Pomeroy travelled to Paris having won the Royal Academy traveling scholarship. Pomeroy studied under Mercié in Paris and began to incorporate his teacher’s stylistic impulses into his own work. In 1898 he would exhibit his own lifesize plaster of Perseus with the Head of Medusa at the Royal Academy.
Frederick William Pomeroy, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1898, V&A Museum, London
Mercié exhibited with great success at the Salons throughout the 1870s and 1880s as well as completing large numbers of commissions for tombs, busts and monuments. Quand Même – his most famous monument – was erected n 1884 at Belfort in memory of the town’s heroic resistance to the Prussian invaders during the siege of 1870.
Antonin Mercié, Quand Même, circa 1874, Musée des Augustines, Toulouse