Musée d'Orsay: Antoine Bourdelle Head of Apollo

Antoine Bourdelle
Head of Apollo

Head of Apollo
Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)
Head of Apollo
Between 1900 and 1909
H. 67.4; W. 27.2; D. 25.3 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Tête d'Apollon [Head of Apollo]

This Head of Apollo is the result of a study that Bourdelle started in 1900 when he was still employed as an assistant to Rodin. At that time, Bourdelle was looking for his own direction, and wanting to move away from the Romantic Expressionism of his master. His Head of Apollo announced the beginning of his new style and his return to the tenets of classical antiquity. Many years later the artist himself explained his move: "I broke away from the deeply pocketed surfaces, from the accidental, in search of the permanent plane. I looked for what is essential in a structure, giving less importance to transient waves, and I have gone even further and sought the universal rhythm".

This new orientation did not come easily. Beset with difficulties - doubts, illness, commissions - Bourdelle became discouraged. It was only later that he rediscovered his clay version, dried out and spoiled, and re-modelled it using plaster casts. He finished it in 1909, leaving visible traces on the sculpture of this chaotic genesis: cracks, joins, scarring...

When Rodin was invited to see the work he was "quite stunned by it. He saw how completely I had moved away from him, and did not forgive me". Bourdelle had found his own style: whereas Rodin analysed, accentuated shadows and projections, and exaggerated the musculature, Bourdelle created syntheses and constructed form through simplification. Perhaps because he was shocked by Rodin's reaction, Bourdelle spoke of "drama" and of "isolation of sculptural thinking". He also gives his Head of Apollo an autobiographical dimension: "This sculpture reflects the drama of my life: one side is complete, the other is still in progress, troubled, austere, free of the past and of any contemporary influence". The work remained hidden for another ten years before Bourdelle authorised its reproduction. Nevertheless, from the moment it was created this work marked a turning point for him: "one of my first works, one of those works which, I feel, began to express what I really wanted to say".

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