Relatively unknown, 19th-century polychrome
sculpture is one of the most important facets of the history of the discipline. Until the beginning of this century, the only colors allowed in sculptures were the white of marble and the monochrome patina of bronze statues. But the discovery of the use of polychromy in ancient architecture and sculpture changed the perspective of people, but also a heated debate.
The question of applying color to contemporary sculpture vanished archaeological debates, and pioneering sculptors such as Charles Cordier began to specialize in this technique from the 1850s. Once the controversy had died out, the color began to establish its legitimacy of the Second Empire. thanks to its decorative character, which had the upper hand under the influence of Symbolism and Art Nouveau from the 1880s onwards.
The variety of materials used testifies to the often advanced experiments that were carried out, which sometimes yielded surprising aesthetic results. Painted waxes and marbles, assembled colored marbles, gold and silver bronzes, pâte the distant and enamelled stoneware became the new language of a new style of French sculpture, which illustrates the artistic talent of artists at the end of the century. The biggest challenge in applying color to sculpture lay in the illusionism of representation, as evidenced by the scandal caused by Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Colored sculpture became the preferred medium of Henry Cros, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Louis-Ernest Barrias, Jean-Désiré Ringel d’Illzach, Jean Carriès and Paul Gauguin.
The exhibition presents a selective overview of this very specific aspect of nineteenth-century art by an ensemble of about fifty works from the collections of the Musée d’Orsay.