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Self Portrait (sculpture)
Antoine Bourdelle: 1861 - 1929

Antoine Bourdelle was born in 1861 at Montauban in the south of France, the son of a cabinetmaker. He learned drawing with the founder of the Ingres Museum at Montauban, then sculpture at the art school in Toulouse. At the age of 24 he won a scholarship to the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which he left after six months in order to work on his own.

The sculptures he most admired were the 17th century Pierre Puget and, from his own century, Antoine Louis Barye and Jean Baptiste Carpeaux. He became a friend of Jules Dalou and, most important of all, the pupil and assistant of Rodin, with whom a long collaboration followed despite their basic difference of outlook. After 1905, when he stopped working for him, Bourdelle struggled to break away from Rodin's influence, his own ideals demanding more and more insistently a complete simplicity of forms. His deep anxiety over his lack of a faith drew him to the philosophical writings of Henri Bergson and the Indian Krishnamurti.

With Rodin's help, Bourdelle soon became a well-known figure. He had already begun, in 1884, to submit portrait busts fairly regularly to the Paris Salon, where his Hannibal's First Victory received an honorable mention in 1885. Four years later he won a medal at the Paris World Exhibition. In 1893 he was awarded the commission for a monument to commemorate the dead of Montauban. In 1909 his Hercules the Archer was much acclaimed. He refused one commission, that for a monument to a General Gallifet, who had been guilty of brutality during the Paris Commune of 1871.

Once established in Paris, Bourdelle became a popular teacher, both at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and at his own studio. There from 1910, many prominent pupils attended his classes, so that his influence on French sculpture was considerable. By now his work was markedly stylized. Like Rodin, he learned from Greek and Gothic art, but, unlike Rodin, he spoiled what he gained from this discipline by exaggerating the pastiche and the archaism.

A significant aspect of Boudelle's work was his interest in dance forms and movements. In 1903, the American dancer Isadora Duncan had danced at a celebration held in honor of Rodin. Bourdelle, who was present, did not fail to realize how perfectly her movements matched his aesthetic ideal. He saw her perform again in 1909. He made numerous sketches of her and wrote: "when the great Isadora danced before me, thirty years of my life looking at all the great human masterpieces became suddenly animated."

Commissioned in 1910 to decorate the Paris Theatre des Champs-Elysees, he could visualize the proposed reliefs only in the terms of Isadora. Before he finished them in 1913 he had seen Nijinsky's dancing and incorporated this, too, in his design.

Bourdelle received several commissions for monuments in his last years. He was a founder and vice-president of the Paris Salon des Tuileries, and in 1924 became a commander of the Legion of Honor. He died at Le Vesinet, near Paris, in October, 1929.

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