Head and Torso of 'Youth'
Signed Wlerick and inscribed Alexis Rudier Fondeur, Paris
Bronze with rich dark and mid brown patination
Height: 31 1/2 (80 cm)
Conceived around 1913 this bronze cast in 1942. There are no other known versions of this bronze cast by Alexis Rudier.
Robert Wlérick was born in 1882 in the city of Mont-de-Marsan, in the south west of France.
His father was a carpenter and cabinet-maker who also dealt in antiques, often travelling to Spain and Italy in search of such objects. Wlérick was introduced to drawing at a very young age and studied sculpture in his hometown under Charles Despiau’s master.
After studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse, Wlérick moved to Paris in 1906, where he took part in the so-called Bande á Schnegg. Lucien Schnegg (1864-1899) and his ‘gang’ developed a highly independent sculptural language, countering the symbolism of late 19th century art and the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. Schnegg aimed to convey the influence of classical statuary through new approaches to modelling. Wlérick’s participation in the bande and his early education in the south of France constitute the core elements of his artistic career.
The sculptor’s fame grew exponentially when his work was praised publicly by Auguste Rodin in 1912. When inspecting La Petite Landaise at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Rodin stated: ‘I am amazed that you have succeeded in bringing this work to such a finish and yet have retained such spontaneity. It is beautiful, like a Donatello’. Rodin’s statement expertly summarises Wlérick’s working practice; while the sculptor reworked his figures extensively, the initial model was referenced throughout the artist’s creative process. This is also the case with the Bust and Torso of Youth.
Wlérick first conceived Jeunesse (Youth) in 1911 – his wife, Georgette, modelled for him in this circumstance. The plaster version of the sculpture was presented in 1913 at the Salon des Beaux-Arts. In 1927, the artist produced a smaller than life-size version of the piece, adding drapery over the figure’s left arm. Finally, Wlérick produced a life-size version of the sculpture without drapery in 1935; he exhibited the plaster at the Salon des Tuileries in the same year.
The present piece is based on the smaller than life-size version of the sculpture produced by the artist in 1927. It was cast by the Alexis Rudier foundry on 26th June 1942, being recorded in the foundry books as no ‘11533 Wlérick 1 torse de femme avec tête à gauche.’
The catalogue of the 1982 exhibition ‘Robert Wlérick’ fails to mention any Alexis Rudier casts of the piece, logging only an undated Valsuani edition of ten bronzes, also based on the 1927 model.
It is important to notice, however, that the bronzes produced by Valsuani differ from the present piece in the inclination of the model’s head and the depiction of its pelvis. Likewise, there is only one mention of the sculpture in the Alexis Rudier foundry books. This suggests that the present work is indeed a unique, one-off cast made by the artist in 1942, perhaps based on a lost plaster.
Head and Torso of Youth won the first prize for sculpture at the 1939 San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition. Together with La Petite Landaise (1912) and Rolande (1937-1941), it is considered as one of the most accomplished pieces ever produced by the artist, forming part of the collection of the Bristol Museum of Fine Arts (UK) and of the Uppsala Museum of Modern Art (Sweden). Full-size versions of Jeunesse can be admired at the Foundation de Coubertin at Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse and in Mont-de-Marsan.
R.Wlerick, La Petite Landaise, 1911