Exposition au musée

Félicie de Fauveau. The Amazon Sculptress

From June 13th to September 15th, 2013
Félicie de Fauveau
La Lampe dite de Saint Michel, 1832
© DR/Cliché musée d'Orsay, Patrice Schmidt / DR

Mademoiselle de Fauveau's Early Career

Félicie de Fauveau-Autoportrait à la levrette
Félicie de Fauveau
Autoportrait à la levrette, 1846
Postdam, Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten
© Daniel Lindner, 2013

Born into a family ennobled in 1740, Félicie de Fauveau learned how to paint before discovering sculpture in Besançon, when, after a single discussion with a craftsman who produced religious statues, she declared: "I too am a sculptor". We know of no other training she received in this medium.
After the death of her father in 1826, the family moved to Paris; her mother hosted an influential salon in the rue de La Rochefoucauld in the heart of the Nouvelle Athènes artistic quarter, where Fauveau's studio was next to that of the painter Ary Scheffer. Like her contemporaries, Fauveau read Walter Scott, Shakespeare and Dante. She embarked on a number of detailed studies, teaching herself about history, heraldry and medieval art, sharing her discoveries with her friend Paul Delaroche.
Fauveau's career then took off thanks to family connections at the court of King Charles X (1824-1830) and to the protection of the influential Duc de Duras. His daughter, Félicie de La Rochejaquelein, became a friend of the artist, and the "two Félicies" continued to maintain an intense relationship, which, in spite of the physical distance between them, lasted until the death of the countess in 1883.
In order to support her family, and no doubt driven by a deep-seated desire to succeed, Fauveau decided to adopt a "professional" approach. She was the first female sculptor to make a living from her art. Her first submission to the Salon, at the age of 26, turned out to be a masterstroke: her Christine of Sweden won praise from all quarters, and her reputation was established once and for all. She was commissioned by Charles X to model some doors for the Louvre, designed a tabernacle for Metz cathedral (not executed) and produced the Lamp of Saint Michel and the Monument to Dante for the Comte de Pourtalès.
On the eve of the July Revolution, Félicie de Fauveau was a promising young Parisian artist, and had already achieved an enviable reputation.
The Epic Events of the Vendée

Félicie de Fauveau-Portrait de la duchesse de Berry
Félicie de Fauveau
Portrait de la duchesse de Berry, 1840
Collection particulière
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

When Charles X was forced to abdicate in 1830, signalling the end of the Bourbon Restoration, the course of Félicie de Fauveau's life changed, and became inextricably linked to the History of France. Charles X had designated the Duc de Bordeaux as his successor, but it was the Duc d'Orléans, more inclined to compromise with the liberal deputies, who was proclaimed king by Parliament, as Louis-Philippe I.
The elder Legitimist branch of the Bourbons, descendants of Louis XIV, was deposed in favour of the younger branch. The Duc de Bordeaux, the Legitimist pretender Henri d'Artois, became the Comte de Chambord under the July Monarchy (1830-1848). To his followers, like Félicie de Fauveau, he would always be Henri V.
In 1831, Félicie de Fauveau went to Landebaudière to rejoin her friend the Comtesse de La Rochejaquelein, the sister-in-law of the famous monarchist general; her chateau in the Vendée became a stronghold for the conspirators. Notwithstanding the decorative military elements that Fauveau produced for her comrades in arms, this period marked a turning point in her career: the unconventional artist now made way for the fascinating heroine of the Vendée. Once discovered, Fauveau was imprisoned for three months.
On her release, she briefly took up arms once again in support of the Duchesse de Berry. Knowing that she would be arrested, she had no alternative but to go into exile in 1833. Her activities in the Vendée affected her forever, and she referred to herself as an "equerry" in the service of her "master", the Comtesse de La Rochejaquelein.

Florence, Home and Refuge

Félicie de Fauveau-Clémence Isaure instituant les jeux floraux
Félicie de Fauveau
Clémence Isaure instituant les jeux floraux, 1845
Toulouse, musée des Augustins
© Photo Daniel Martin

In 1833, Félicie de Fauveau went into exile in the strongly Catholic country of her birth: Italy. She remained there for the rest of her life in spite of the amnesty of 1837. She was attracted to Florence, an artistic and cultural centre, but more importantly the crucible of the golden age of Italian art. From this point on, her works were deeply influenced by the art of the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance, which she studied avidly.
Although not part of the artistic circles of the Tuscan capital, she was immediately invited to stay with the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, became close friends with the painter Antonio Marini whose passion for Dante she shared, and met visiting artists. While continuing with her sculpture, she and her brother Hippolyte also bought and sold paintings.
Her studio, decked out with fabrics and wall hangings for the visits of illustrious figures like the Comte de Chambord and the Tsar, was frequented by both art lovers and those who were merely curious. However, even at the height of her activity in 1840, Fauveau only employed four assistant sculptors to cut the marble mainly into small sizes.
Intransigent Legitimism

Félicie de Fauveau ; Hippolyte de Fauveau-Portrait en buste de la marquise Boccella
Félicie de Fauveau ; Hippolyte de Fauveau
Portrait en buste de la marquise Boccella, 1851
Collection particulière
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Her commissioned portraits, often undertaken through financial necessity and always highly remunerative, flattered the model or were designed as a souvenir of someone dear. Fauveau submitted to this practice, supported by her pragmatic mother: "Portraits are the best aspect of art, and they are the most lucrative". She did, however, remain true to her convictions, only accepting commissions from the friends and family, royalist foreigners and French legitimist aristocrats who flocked to her studio. In these portraits, she chose to highlight status rather than offer psychological insight, preferring "expressive" high relief to sculpture in the round.
The noble birth of her models was proclaimed through coats of arms and their allegiances through inscriptions and royal symbols highlighted with polychromy. The portrait of the Marquis Forbin des Issarts, in the form of a holy water font affirms the former peer of France's loyalty to the Bourbons, whereas the daughters of the Duc de Rohan are portrayed decoratively in a roll of leather emerging from a golden background.
Exceptions to this rule were the portraits of the flamboyant Baron François Dudon with its baroque highlights and of the Vicomte Brétignières de Courteilles, both of whom are given a more conventional treatment.

The Rebirth of the Decorative Arts

Félicie de Fauveau ; Emile Jeannest, bronzier-Hausse-col de la duchesse de Berry
bronzier Félicie de Fauveau ; Emile Jeannest
Hausse-col de la duchesse de Berry, 1831
Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne, Historial de la Vendée
© Patrick Durandet ?R Conseil général de Vendée ?R" Conservation des musées / expositions"

An admirer of the Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, Fauveau devoted herself, like him, to sculpture and the decorative arts, "at once a sculptor, architect and colourist, embracing art as a monument, a decoration and an industry". Blurring the boundaries between disciplines, without disdaining the ordinary objects of daily life, Fauveau designed ceremonial daggers and picture frames for Prince Anatole Demidoff as well as jewellery and walking stick handles.
Nevertheless, she did not succumb entirely to the demands of lucrative serial production: her works were almost always unique. She was very particular in her choice of collaborators, entrusting the lost wax casting for the Lamp of Saint Michel to the renowned founder Honoré Gonon. Fauveau's skill in evoking an archaic style is evident in the subtle polychromy, the delicacy, the meticulous refinement and the abundance of detail: "swarming with pygmies" was her description of the bell for the Grand Duchess of Russia, into which she slipped a portrait of herself sculpting a window and her brother Hippolyte working on the bell.
Princes and Patrons

Félicie de Fauveau ; Hippolyte de Fauveau-Pied droit de la danseuse Fanny Elssler
Félicie de Fauveau ; Hippolyte de Fauveau
Pied droit de la danseuse Fanny Elssler, 1847
Vienne, ísterrichisches Theatermuseum
© Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Attracted by the hospitality of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the pleasant climate there, European aristocrats flocked to Florence and would always pay a visit to the Studio Fauveau. True to her monarchist ideal of divine right, Fauveau worked almost exclusively for patrons who wanted to own figures of the saints, whatever their religious beliefs. Russians figured prominently among her illustrious clientele. Following a number of commissions from the Grand Duchess of Russia Maria Nikolaevna (1819-1876), her father, Tsar Nicolas I (1796-1855), sought out Fauveau, an admirer of his autocratic rule. He visited her in her studio in 1846 and, for the terrace of the Cottage Palace in Peterhof, he commissioned a graceful Fountain with Nymph and Dolphin, a rare example of a nude in Fauveau's work.
For the San Donato villa of the Prince Anatole Demidoff (1827-1891), Félicie and Hippolyte designed decorations and ornaments to highlight his sumptuous collection, for example the base of François-Joseph Bosio's Henri IV as a Child.

Félicie de Fauveau-Saint Michel terrassant le dragon
Félicie de Fauveau
Saint Michel terrassant le dragon, 1835
Collection particulière de S. K. H. Carl Herzog von Wuerttemberg
© Photostudio Schneider

The Religion of the SoulFauveau was fascinated by Gothic art, and more generally by the religious art of the Middle Ages, whose archaic purity, which she labelled "primitivism", perfectly expressed her religious feelings. Her deeply-held religious convictions ruled every aspect of her art, which included many objects linked to private devotions.
She elevated the domestic holy water font, found in so many homes, to the level of a precious object made especially for her rich clients. "I hope that the Devil will be annoyed with me for this unusual series" she wrote to the Comtesse de La Rochejaquelein.
She had developed the model of the Holy Water Font with an Angel even before arriving in Florence. In front of a Roman building with two turrets, an angel extends a wing to protect the basin of holy water, under which nestle birds and aquatic plants along with a verse from psalm 16 "Sub umbra alarum tuarum protege me", "Hide me in the shadow of your wings".
For Princess Sophie of Arenberg, Fauveau designed the model of the font for the Adoration of the Cross, presented by an angel with outspread wings. Finally, the Saint Louis font refers to the piety of the legitimist Catholics. Surprisingly, Fauveau produced very few objects for churches: the Christ on the Cross for Saint-Aubin-de-Baubigné, "on a beautiful cross in the style of Giotto", is a rare example of this.