Charles DESPIAU (1874 - 1946)
Bust of Paulette, 1907
Bronze proof, unnumbered
Sand cast by Alexis Rudier
Signed : Despiau
H: 32.5, W: 21.5, D: 25.5 cm
French Private Collection
- Charles Albert Despiau 1874-1946, collections of the municipal museum of Mont-de-Marsan, 1982.
- Lebon, Elisabeth, Charles Despiau (1874-1946), Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre sculpté, (Complete Catalogue of the Sculptural Work) Ph.D. dissertation in Art History directed by Mady Ménier at the Université de Paris I, Panthéon Sorbonne, 1995.
- Charles Despiau 1874-1946, The Miyagi Museum of Art, Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Kumanato Prefectural Museum of Art, Ohara Museum of Art, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Kobe, The Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki, 1997-1998, p.179-180, n° 16 and p.107.
Paule Pallus (1896-1977), nicknamed Paulette, was eleven years old when Despiau executed this bust. The daughter of the sculptor’s lawyer, she once came into her father’s office while the artist was there, and he was struck by her appearance, particularly as her facial features were accentuated by her damp hair lying flat against her head. Despiau immediately saw the potential for a powerful composition and asked for permission to do her portrait. At later points in his career, he was again struck by faces framed by naturally smooth, damp hair accentuating the facial features (Bust of Jacqueline Poyet, 1931 and Bust of Odette, 1933).
The Bust of Paulette took Despiau several months and required numerous sittings, which the young model, not liking to sit still, found very trying. His process required several plasters, which he corrected with plastiline, a process that he used throughout his career. The plaster of the bust in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. is the only known preparatory stage of this sculpture, and stands as witness to his perseverance in the search for exact form. Though based on an intensive observation of the girl’s actual face, the resulting sculpture is a timeless and idealized portrait. The noble bearing of her head is complemented by the treatment of her hair, knotted in a ponytail. The face is structured of precise, flat planes, and, thanks to its purified volumes, light delicately flows over the whole, giving it a spiritual dimension.
Independent in character, Despiau was largely self-taught. He frequented the Louvre and the Trocadéro Museums and was a great admirer of Rodin and of the group of young sculptors that orbited around him, such as Lucien Schnegg. Despiau entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1893, studying in Barrias’ studio, but did not find the approach there suited to his particular talents. From 1898 on, he was inspired by Rodin’s freedom; and particularly by his Balzac, which Rodin had just shown at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts’ salon. Despiau said of it, “I admire the eloquence of its great volume, free of petty detail, and above all, I find in it an encouragement to see with my own eyes, forgetting all prescriptions, all ingrained habits.” In 1901, he left the Salon des Artistes français, which was dominated by the principles of the Academy, and chose to show his work instead at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which had been created by Rodin, and where he found “a younger and freer spirit.” He became a member of the society in 1904.
Despiau showed three works in the 1907 Salon: the Charioteer, the Little Girl from Landes, and Paulette. Rodin was impressed by this last and invited Despiau to come to see him in his studio—so it was, in fact, through the Bust of Paulette that the two men met and began their collaboration. “In the tumult of the salon, these three exquisite creations may have made very little noise, but what a personal and rare timbre, what a fresh voice—exact, pure, and vibrating with suppressed emotion! There were a few that heard this voice and did not forget it, among them, Rodin, who always paid attention to the efforts of the young sculptors around him. One can see him, circling Paulette for a long time, engrossed in examining the smooth transitions from cheek to lips, around the eyes, around the temples, the small, closed mouth, the childish gravity, the avid nose. The day after the opening, he wrote to Despiau to send him his compliments and to invite him to his studio in the Dépôt des marbres.” “Despiau was thirty-three at the time, and had learned much from Rodin, but from that point on, his work took on a very individual rhythm, and, with an obstinate patience, he sought out forms that would allow him to express it in its many diverse aspects. The Little Girl from Landes and Paulette epitomize Charles Despiau’s aesthetic: the sobriety of the sculptural line and the beauty of the volumes give us a whole that is composed of nobility and clarity.”
Despiau has made a permanent mark as a sculptor of busts. Aside from being a noble subject, the human face was, for him, the basis of his quest for harmony, truth, and timeless beauty. The Bust of Paulette seems to have been particularly dear to him; he kept it in his studio, and he gave plaster copies of it, all taken from the definitive plaster and with the seams still showing, to several close friends. After The Little Girl from Landes, the work marks the beginning of his creative flowering, and inaugurated his relationship with Rodin as well as the recognition that he would enjoy from then on.
The complete catalogue of the Despiau’s sculptures, established by Elisabeth Lebon in 1995, lists three different forms of the bust of Paulette :
—a 1907 version, the oldest, known as the Short Version. This is the bust presented here. Only two bronze proofs are known, and they are held in private collections in Paris. They are not numbered, and they date from between 1907 and 1911. One was cast by Alexis Rudier, and the other by Meroni Radice.
—a 1909-1910 version, known as the Hermes Bust. Of this version, there is only a single marble, which is held in the Despiau-Wlérick Museum in Mont-de-Marsan.
—a 1938 version, the last, known as the Lengthened Version (Italian style ) or Girl in a Sweater. The plaster was cast in bronze between 1946 and 1960 in a numbered edition of ten. The proof #2/10, cast by Bisceglia, is in the Despiau-Wlérick Museum in Mont-de-Marsan. There is also one in grey-pink stone, which is held in a private collection in Paris.
Paulette in public collections:
-Paulette, Short Version, in plaster from 1907, 32.1 x 22.1 x 25.4 cm, gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn in 1972 to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.
-Paulette, Hermes Bust, in marble from 1910, 41 x 28.5 x 22.5 cm, acquired by the State in 1910, Musée National d’Art Moderne, held in the Musée Despiau-Wlérick in Mont-de-Marsan.
-Paulette, Short Version or Reclining Version, in plaster with gum lacquer, 51 x 32 x 25.5 cm, given by Mme Despiau in 1960 to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, held in the Musée Despiau-Wlérick in Mont-de-Marsan.