La Nuit (Night)
A. E. Carrier-Belleuse
Signed A. Carrier.
Height: 39.4" (100 cm)
Conceived and carved 1860-1868
Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse was one most successful sculptors in 19th-century Europe. He led successful studios in both France and Belgium, and was hired as artistic director for the renowned porcelain manufacturers Minton & Co., based in Stock-on-Trent, England, where he resided between 1850-1855. His works are housed in major museum collections across the world, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City among others.
Born in Ainzy-le-Château in 1824, Carrier-Belleuse first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1851. The artist’s reputation began to grow both in France and abroad thanks to the success of his 1861 Salon entry Salve Regina. Such success was cemented with his works La Bacchante (1863) and La Messie, the latter winning the medal of honour at the Salon in 1867.
On the side of his academic accomplishments, Carrier-Belleuse made his fortune as a sculptor of small-scale bronzes and terracottas, which were particularly popular with the growing French middle class. Throughout his career, he was able to build on his success thanks to his business acumen, organising personal sales at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris and engaging numerous skilled artists in his studio practice. Auguste Rodin famously worked under Carrier Belleuse, learning from and collaborating with his master in Belgium in the early 1870s. The artistic relationship between the two has been recently celebrated in the 2014 exhibition Carrier-Belleuse: Le maître de Rodin at the Musées et domaine nationaux du Palais impérial de Compiègne.
The present marble is an allegorical representation of La Nuit (Night), here depicted as a naked woman, holding an asleep child in her right arm as she lifts a long cloak over her head with her left hand. The female figure is both alluring and maternal; while her forms are voluptuous, her face is peaceful, touching lightly that of the child in her arms in a tender and protective gesture.
In depicting night as a woman, Carrier-Belleuse followed an ancient European tradition dating back to Homer’s time. Indeed, the artist seems to have consciously highlighted the connection with Greece in the beautifully ornate amphora at the woman’s feet, and particularly in the depiction of the lion’s head on the top right of the vessel.
While it is difficult to pinpoint a precise date of production for the present work, the inscription on the marble suggests that the work predates 1868, as the artist changed his signature from ‘A.Carrier’ to ‘A.Carrier-Belleuse’ in that year. Moreover, the catalogue of Carrier’s first sale in Paris in 1868 shows that a model in the exact same size was offered for sale both in marble and terracotta, signalling that the piece was conceived before this date.
The Victoria & Albert Museum currently holds in its collection a terracotta version of this same model. However, while these statuettes were produced extensively by the artist, only another marble version of the present model in this size is known. This is currently part of a private collection and differs from the present piece in the representation of the cloth, which drapes the modesty of the figure. In light of its rarity, iconographic depth and display of technical ability in the carving, the present work represents a compelling example of Carrier-Belleuse’s artistic prowess.