Joseph BernardFemme à l'enfant
Lot 9W
Joseph Bernard (French, 1866-1931) Femme à l'enfant 179cm. (70 1/2in.) (height) (excluding base)
Sold for £37,250 (US$ 62,546) inc. premium
Lot Details
Joseph Bernard (French, 1866-1931)
Femme à l'enfant
signed, numbered and monogrammed with the Coubertin foundry stamp 'J. Bernard/8/8 FC'
bronze with brown patina
179cm. (70 1/2in.) (height) (excluding base)
Conceived in 1914/1925 and cast in 1987 by the Foundry Coubertin in an edition of 12


    Purchased from the artist's son 1990.

    Somerset, The Bruton Gallery, Two Sculptors - Auguste Rodin and Joseph Bernard, 1991 (illustrated pp.74-75).
    Yorkshire, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Rodin and French Sculpture, 1995.
    London, Canada Square, Canary Wharf, The Quiet Revolution, 2000.

    Joseph Bernard, exh. cat, Musée Rodin, Paris, 1973, no.82 (another version illustrated).
    R. Jullian, L. Stoenesco & P. Grémont, Catalogue raisonné des sculptures et essais de Jean Bernard, Paris, 1989, no.238, pp.328-329 (another version illustrated p.328).

    This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity from the artist's son, Jean Bernard, dated Boulogne, le 24 avril 1991.

    Along with Jeunne fille à la cruche, Bernard's Femme à l'enfant is one of his most famous sculptures. Conceived at the height of his career in 1914, its simple and monumental grace shows how the artist had succeeded in breaking away from the realistic style of his contemporaries and from the influence of Auguste Rodin, which is so often seen in his dramatic themes and figures' poses.

    An independent figure, Bernard had only occasional contact with Rodin and differed from him greatly in his method of modelling directly in plaster rather than clay. The standard process used by sculptors at the time involved making a model in clay, then a mould in plaster, before using this plaster model to carve the final work by mise-aux-points. This system was used on large scale in Rodin's studio, but it necessarily distanced the artist from the actual stone or marble. Bernard omitted this first clay stage for his bronze works, modelling in plaster instead. This had the disadvantage of drying quickly but it could be polished and carved like stone, allowing him to create smoother, more stylised forms. For his stone or marble pieces, Bernard would carve directly, missing out the preliminary stages altogether. Known as taille direct, this method reminds us of Bernard's family background in stone hewing.

    Femme à l'enfant presents the classic motif of mother and child in a gentle dance of perfect harmony. The mother's arms appear elongated in a Mannerist style and her feet are delicately pointed. The child lifts his opposite foot in an enthusiastic parody of his mother, while she gently clasps his hands. Both figures lean slightly backwards to balance the composition and their features and details are pared down to simple, graceful forms:

    'I would like to move more and more towards an art which would be the most intense expression of Beauty in its most characteristic lines; in sculpture you must make abstraction out of detail, not that you must be unaware of it, but have sufficiently experienced it to subjugate it to lines which are absolutely dominant, as a symphony which is the sum of the parts expressing the whole range of sensibilities.' (The artist quoted in Two Sculptors - Auguste Rodin and Joseph Bernard, exh. cat, Bruton Gallery, Somerset, 1991, p.65).

    The original full-size plaster for Femme à l'enfant formed the centrepiece of the 1914 exhibition of Bernard's works at Galerie Manzi-Joyant. The state commissioned a bronze cast of the work in 1925, which was displayed along the façade of the Musée de Luxembourg and is now exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay. This posthumous bronze was cast by the Coubertin foundry.
  1. Deborah Allan
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