Emile-Antoine Bourdelle
Hercules the Archer

Hercules Killing the Birds of Lake Stymphalis
Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)
Hercules Killing the Birds of Lake Stymphalis
1909
Gilded bronze statue
H. 248; W. 247; D. 123 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Héraklès tue les oiseaux du lac Stymphale [Hercules Killing the Birds of Lake Stymphalis]


Trained first in Montauban and then in Toulouse, Bourdelle started work as an assistant in Rodin's studio. The two men were bound together by mutual admiration and respect, even if Bourdelle's desire for synthesis and construction in planes soon opposed him to Rodin's analytical modelling.

From 1905, Bourdelle sought to simplify his lines: "Contain, maintain and master are the rules of construction," he told his pupils over and over again. He looked to mythology for many of his subjects such as Hercules the Archer which enabled him to experiment on a large scale. In his own terms, Apollo was "undertaken in an attempt to master the purest aspect of my deep vision, going far beyond all past flights, I brought to it – more than human blood, bone, cartilage and muscles – the enveloping structure of its forces."

Not only the hero's victory over the monsters, but also Bourdelle's victory over his own high-spirited inspiration, this work is remarkable both for its tension and for its balanced construction. The dynamics come from the interaction of solids and voids, brutal force and balance. The nude figure denotes power, high-strung energy, pulled taut between the arm bending the bow and the foot braced against the rock. The references to primitive Greek sculpture and Roman art – the almond shaped eyes, the nose extending in a straight line from the forehead, jutting cheekbones and brows – act as catalyst for a modern approach.




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