Description
Lucien SCHNEGG (1867 - 1909)
Bust of Charlotte Bernaux

Marble and grey stone
Signed : Lucien Schnegg
H. 45,5; W. 40; D. 22 cm

Provenance:

The artist’s family

Literature:

- Saunier, Charles, “Lucien Schnegg,” Art et Décoration, January-June, 1907, p.97-105.
- Alazard, “Lucien Schnegg et la sculpture contemporaine,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1935, p.114-120.
- La Bande à Schnegg, Paris, Bourdelle Museum, 1974, cat.11.

Description:

The model for this bust was Charlotte Bernaux, the sister of the wood sculptor, Emile Bernaux[1] (1883-1970), who was one of Lucien Schnegg’s students. Emile Bernaux, some twenty years younger than Schnegg, was also one of his closest friends. He met Schnegg's daughter, Louise, in the courtyard of the studio and married her in 1913, four years after her father died.[2]

Charlotte Bernaux was a member of Lucien Schnegg’s intimate circle; Schnegg, an excellent portraitist, often used his family members and close friends as models.[3] In 1901, Lucien presented the bust of Jane Poupelet[4] at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts; Jane Poupelet was his feminine alter-ego in sculpture, and they were very close friends. This portrait, praised by the critics and purchased by the State,[5] perfectly illustrates the sculptor's aspirations—to move away from the exalted art of Rodin, for whom he worked as an assistant,[6] in order to return to the well-balanced style of Hellenic Antiquity, as well as to the grand tradition of portraiture that stretched from the Renaissance to the 18th century.

Lucien Schnegg was joined in his aesthetic project by other young sculptors around Rodin's studio, such as Jane Poupelet, Charles Despiau, and Alfred-Jean Halou. They were all interested in returning to the calm of antiquity and to an austerity of form. Lucien Schnegg, despite himself, became the leader of this group, which the critics called the “Bande à Schegg.”[7]

The sober modeling of Charlotte Bernaux's face, concentrated and compact, rests on architectural planes and fine lines.[8] Schnegg managed to strike a balance between his interest in Greek sculpture and an accurate depiction of his model, with her rounded cheeks and full lips. We see this same antique perfection, with an infinite softness captured in the modeling, in the Portrait of Mlle P,[9] which is in the Grenoble museum.

The rougher work on the hair shows traces of the chisels and other cutting tools he used, which by contrast emphasizes the timeless beauty of the face. At the 1904 Salon, Schnegg presented another marble that used the same kind of contrast, a head of Aphrodite,[10] emerging from a rough block on which the marks of the tools are still visible. By using this process, Schnegg made it clear that he knew Rodin’s work; as with Rodin’s Aurora,[11] the piece is based on the opposition between the polished element of the face and the rough work on the hair.

The artist developed his approach by studying antiquities in the Louvre and Florentine marbles from the Quattrocento. From the former, he took the cut known as “à l'italienne” for his portrait of Madame Bernaux; this consists of cutting the bust off at the shoulders along a horizontal line. Rodin also used this simple cut a number of times,[12] sometimes on busts emerging from rough marble,[13] and it was also frequently used by other sculptors in the "Bande à Schnegg," such as Charles Despiau[14] and Robert Wlerick.[15]

The use of marble of two different colors, apparently unique in Schnegg's work, is an idea taken from Antiquity, based on the rediscovery of polychromatic Greek marbles in the previous century. Like Canova before him, Lucien Schnegg used the color to highlight the whiteness of the marble; the use of such contrasts was popular in the Quattrocento, particularly in the glazed terra cotta work of the Della Robbia brothers.

Currently, there are three Lucien Schnegg busts of Charlotte Bernaux known:
—The first, in plaster, is held in the museum at Roubaix.
—The second is the one presented here.
—The third is entirely in white marble; it is signed and dated 1892, but its current location is not known.
According to the catalogue of the 1974 La Bande à Schnegg exhibition, the bust in white marble shows a younger Charlotte Bernaux than the bi-colored version. This suggests that there are slight variations between the two busts, but this is unlikely, based on the available photographs—only the neck and the drape at the armpits could have been done differently. The plaster in the Roubaix museum seems closer to the bi-colored one than to the white one.

One of the marble busts was presented in 1910 under the title Portrait of Mlle B[16] at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in a section of the exhibition honoring Schnegg, who had recently died. 
 


[1] “A sculptor in wood from 1909 on, he received an honorary distinction at the 1925 Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris. He participated in various salons including the Salon des Artistes français, the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, the Salon d'Automne, and the Salon des Arts Décorateurs. He created many furniture ensembles.” In Benezit, Dictionnaire critique et documentaire, Gründ 1999.
[2] “Mlle Schnegg married Emile Bernaux, one of her father’s former students who had become a sculptor and furniture maker of note.” Gil Blas, November 29, 1913.
[3] “His models were those around him—his wife, his children, Louise and then Madeleine, born November 27, 1899, and his friends.” Damay, 1997.
[4] Jane Poupelet (1874-1932) began her studies in Bordeaux, then continued them in Paris, where she joined the bande à Schnegg around 1900.
[5] Musée d’Orsay, RF 1326. The State then commissioned a marble that entered into the national collections in 1904. (Musée d’Orsay, RF 3296).
[6] Lucien Schnegg worked as Rodin’s assistant from 1902 until he died in 1990; however, he could also refuse projects proposed by Rodin, pleading too much work or deadlines that were too tight.
[7] “Let’s go directly to those who the official modelers scornfully call the ‘Bande à Schnegg.’ Lucien Schnegg [ . . . ] had a determining influence on some of our best young artists. After the necessary analyses, his art easily attained a high degree of synthesis. He did away with the superfluous, the idle talk of the chisel.” Vauxcelles, “The Salon of the SNBA,” Gil Blas, April 13, 1913.
[8] “[ . . . ] it’s [ . . . ] the aesthetic aspect of a physiognomy that really interested Schnegg. He wouldn’t let himself be drawn in by the anecdotal aspect of a face; instead, faithful to the tradition of the best French portraitists, he sought out the fundamental structure and the essential outline [ . . . ]” Alazard, 1935, p.117.
[9] Inv. MG 1673.
[10] In Saunier, 1907, p.98.
[11] Marble dating from 1895-97.
[12] Petit buste d’Hélène de Nostitz, 1902, plaster and plaster wash, Paris, Rodin Museum, Inv. S.1931.
[13] La Duchesse de Choiseul, 1911, marble, Paris, Rodin Museum, Inv. S.1040.
[14] Buste de Mme Lucien Schiff, 1912, marble, Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bx D 1961 12 5.
[15] Recueillement, 1943, Roubaix, La Piscine Museum, Inv. 998.13.1.
[16] N°1941 in the Salon catalogue.