Renault FT17 Tank
Pierre Félix Fix-Masseau
Signed Fix. MASSEAU and inscribed ALEXIS RUDiER / FONDEUR. PARIS and inscribed XII in chalk to the underside
Bronze with dark brown patination
Height: 7 1/2 inches (19 cm)
Conceived and cast in 1919
Pierre Félix Masseau was born in Lyon in 1869 and moved early in his youth to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. Throughout his professional career, he often signed his works as ‘Fix-Masseau’.
In 1890, he took part to the renowned Salon des Artistes Français and then became a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He was the director of the École Nationale d’Art Decoratif in Limogens until 1935, thus cementing his role as one of France’s leading art academicians.
Masseau’s artistic endeavors focused largely on the creation of designs for domestic objects; he is also known for painting still lives, as well as sculpting portrait busts and figures – the most famous of which, Le Secret, is now at the Musée d’Orsay.
In light of its subject-matter, the Renault F17 Tank represents a very specific point of reference in Masseau’s production. The artist was influenced in his choice of subject by the symbolic role the tank played in the allied struggle during WW1. The tank was used extensively throughout the War, and over 18,000 vehicles were produced by Renault by the end of 1918. Being the first tank ever to be produced with a rotating turret, its design gained iconic status, and fundamentally influenced all later twentieth-century combat vehicles manufactured in Europe, the U.S.A and Russia.
In the present work, the tank tread ‘overcomes’ the earth’s grip, raising its front and thus enhancing the statuette’s vertical thrust. The forward-facing turret heightens further the verticality of the composition. In this light, taking into account the symbolic value of the tank’s design, the sculpture can be read as a celebration of French industrial prowess during the Great War.
Masseau’s bronze bas-relief The Effort of French Industry to Defend the Country 1914-1918, now in San Francisco, represents a similar instance of ‘patriotic’ artistic production. Having been made in 1907 ‘Officier’ of the Légion d’honneur, the highest French Order for civil and military merits, Masseau’s Renault F17 Tank fits perfectly within his role as ‘public’ academician and artist.
P. Fix-Masseau, Le Secret, 1894, Musée d’Orsay
P. Fix-Masseau, The Effort of French Industry to Defend the Country, 1920, Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco