Sculpture Mania! French Sculpture in the 19th and 20th Centuries


May 23, 2013

Of all of the visual arts branches, sculpture was probably the most noticeable in the daily lives of the French people in the late 19th and early 20 centuries.   Paris was a city moving rapidly into the modern age and the most significant sculptors of the time were commissioned to create works for both public spaces and private collections.   In her upcoming class, Anna Tahinci takes us on a journey back to that time, where we will meet the preeminent sculptors and learn how they related to their culture, as well as to each other.  We recently visited with Dr. Tahinci to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is significant for us to know about French sculpture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?

Tahinci: The sculptors of the time were all extremely engaged in the cultures of their time.  At this time, there was a so-called “sculptural mania”.  Cities and states, as well as private collectors, were significant in commissioning sculptures.  There was sculpture everywhere – in the streets, in public spaces, and in museums.  It was a display of the best that French culture had to offer.

WIH Reporter: How did a sculptor get started during that period?

Tahinci: Most of these artists started working under a master.  Then, they would learn and they would go on to create their own workshops and become masters.  We’ll be examining the relationships between masters and students.  Rodin is the best example of that.

 WIH Reporter: What sculpture collections will you be focusing on?

Tahinci: We’ll have a special focus on the museums in Paris with significant sculpture collections.

WIH Reporter: Will you cover the relationships between the sculptors, such as Rodin and Camille Claudel, along with how they fit in with the other arts during that time?

Tahinci: I will be covering Rodin’s relationship with Camille Claudel. Here is a summary of important points, from an article I had contributed to “Sculpture Review” back in 2000:

“Camille Claudel is often seen as an underestimated genius and as a victim of circumstance. Her tragic life, the relationship she had with Rodin and, after their separation, the thirty unproductive years she spent in a psychiatric hospital, makes it difficult to arrive at a fair judgement of her qualities as a sculptress. In this perspective, it is appropriate to investigate on Camille’s self-image, on how she represented herself in her artistic production, on how she transposed her own experience into symbolic images or personal mythology. The sculptures of Camille Claudel that contain the most obvious autobiographical element were conceived as representations of her mental conceptions, works in which the artist proved her abilities to portray herself as a female figure which acquires the symbolic dimension of love and destiny. Torn between desire and despair, Camille tries to extinguish her own life and happiness and commits suicide in effigy. As in her genuflecting figure of herself at the base of the heroic group of L’Age Mûr, Claudel constantly seems to reach out and try to grasp an unattainable mythology, which she never seems able to obtain.”

WIH Reporter: How did sculptors fit in with the other well-known artists of the time?

Tahinci: Sculptors were an integral part of the artistic, cultural and social life of their time by participating in annual exhibitions and weekly literary Salons. They made a strategic use of all their different networks (artistic, financial, social, political) to promote their careers and obtain both public and private commissions.

Dr. Anna Tahinci, Ph.D takes us on an exciting 4-week journey to learn about French sculpture in the 19th and 20th centuries, starting on June 3rd, 2013, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.