Le Passage du Rhin (The Rhine Crossing)
Inscribed B-6 and stamped with the foundry mark CIRE PERDUE A.-A. HEBRARD
Bronze with brown patina
Height: 10 2/3" (27 cm)
Conceived between 1890-1892 and cast circa 1907
Dalou began his artistic career as a student of Carpeaux and Duret at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he met Auguste Rodin. His debut at the Salon was in 1861 when he exhibited Dame Romaine jouant aux Osselets. At the Salon in 1870 he received critical acclaim and a third-class medal for Brodeuse (Woman embroidering).
Dalou was a left-wing Republican, a political conviction that led him to flee Paris for London in 1871. Although Napoleon had been overthrown one year earlier during the Franco-Prussian war, by 1871 foreign forces had seized control of Paris. While the Prussians left the country quickly following the Treaty of Frankfurt, the next decade saw a political power struggle between Monarchists and those in favour of the Republic. This struggle was presided over by a Republican yet highly conservative government, unsympathetic to Dalou’s ideals.
During his time in London, Dalou was appointed as a tutor at the Lambeth art school, where he would lay the foundations for what would become the English New School of sculpture movement. Students of the school included William Goscombe-John, George Frampton and Harry Bates.
The artist returned to France in 1880. By that point all consideration of a French Monarchy had disappeared and he could profess freely his Republican views, even submitting a design for a group entitled Tiumph of the Republic, which was erected in the Place de la Nation where it can still be seen today.
Despite moving from England to France, the artistmaintained contacts with patrons and appreciators he had met across the Channel. The conception of the present work is indicative of this, as it relates to a commission for the Duchesse Marguerite de Rotschild (1855-1905), who had met the artist in London but ordered the piece once he had already moved to France, in 1890.
The Duchesse and her husband, the Duke Agénor de Gramont, engaged Dalou to produce a marble sculpture for their Parisian abode, which was later destroyed. The work was moved to their mansion in Normandy, the Château de Vallière. It was exhibited in 1892 at the Societé nationale des beaux-arts under the title Les Épouisalles.
Interestingly, the records of the Petit Palais, where the terracotta maquette for the piece is currently kept, show that Dalou then changed the title of the piece to Le Passage du Rhin. This was to avoid confusion with regards to the work’s genesis and iconography. In fact, this was not conceived in the occasion of the Duke and Duchess’ marriage, which dated back to 1875, but rather as a later celebration of their union.
In giving a second title to the piece, Dalou payed tribute to the commissioners’ lineage as well as their present relationship. Armand de Gramont, Count of Guiche and ancestor of Agénor de Gramont, famously crossed the river Rhine in 1672 to reach the French King Louis XIV during the Franco-Dutch War, serving as an example for the whole army, which followed him thereafter. At the same time, the Duchesse Marguerite had completed her own ‘crossing’ in 1878 to reach her future husband, travelling from her home in Frankfurt to Paris.
The modelling of the sculpture is the fruit of Dalou’s experiments in the depiction of human torsion and movement. The artist had started such experiments working on the modelling of mythological figures, especially Satyrs and Nymphs. Dalou clearly derived inspiration from the great 17th-century master Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose Aeneas and Anchises (Galleria Borghese, Rome) can be considered a direct antecedent to the work by the French artist.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Aeneas and Anchises, 1618-1619, marble, Galleria Borghese (Rome)
The present bronze is cast from the terracotta maquette currently at the Petit Palais in Paris. Dalou had left the piece to his friend and executor of his will Charles Auzoux, who proceeded to contract the Hébrard foundry to cast an edition of the work in bronze. This was not, however, sold for profit, but rather contributed to the funding of the ‘Orphelinat des Arts’ – a pious institution whose mission was to look after and train the orphsn sons and daughters of art professionals in Paris. The institution was particularly dear to Dalou, who had left them part of the contents of his studio at his death.
Another model in the same size is currently part of the National Gallery of Art collection in Washington, D.C.