Revisiting Landmark Works with Foujita and Claudel

On 28 April 2021, by Sophie Reyssat

Tsuguharu Foujita and Camille Claudel modernized the classics, from mythological characters to the image of the Madonna.

Camille Claudel (1864-1943), Perseus and the Gorgon, "small model" or small Perseus, c. 1905, signed bronze proof, Eugène Blot cast, 51 x 30 x 25 cm/20.08 x 11.82 x 9.85 in.
Estimate: €200,000/300,000

Perseus beheading Medusa, whose mere glance could turn a person to stone, has fueled artists’ imaginations since classical antiquity. Over the centuries, the Gorgon’s monstrous image gradually morphed into that of a venomous beauty. Benevento Cellini’s 1553 bronze Perseus and Medusa, standing in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, is an example. It inspired Camille Claudel’s sculpture of the hero brandishing Medusa’s head, but she distanced herself from the ancient reference by making the subject whirl in a deadly waltz: falling away from Perseus’s spinning body, his drapery rolls up and merges with the wings of Medusa’s headless body, whose prostrate pose recalls the artist’s Crouching Woman. The soft curves and serene faces contrast with the dramatic moment.

The plaster cast of this life-size statue—one of just two in Claudel’s career—was shown at the Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts (National Society of Fine Arts Salon) in 1899. Now lost, its memory lives on in François Pompon’s monumental marble commissioned by the comtesse de Maigret in 1900 for her Paris hôtel particulier (townhouse or mansion), as well as in six bronzes cast by Eugène Blot five years later. This one, acquired by the countess, Claudel's faithful patron, has remained in her family to this day.

Tsuguharu Foujita’s 1957 watercolor Motherhood is a secular version of the Virgin and Child. Recalling Byzantine art, the gold ground gives the group a hieratic aura of holiness. The hands with long, supple fingers express tenderness, recalling Italian Mannerism of the late 16th century, whose influence is also evinced in the sweet, idealized faces (23 x 17.5 cm, 9.06 x 6.89 in.) €215,000/250,000).

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