Joseph Bernard: in praise of sensuality
This early 20th-century French sculptor's favourite theme was the female body. The woman who is the subject of this bronze looks as though she is dancing. Presented soon in Lille, it invites us to revisit a powerful work.
La Jeune Fille à sa toilette (Girl at Her Toilet), also known as Jeune fille se coiffant assise (Seated Girl Styling Herself), is one of the many idealized silhouettes, including the famous Girl with a Jug, that the sculptor made around 1910. At that time, he used clay, but even more so plaster, to model, especially for his creations in cast iron. Our bronze is the “small nature” state of a large plaster cast exhibited at the 1912 Salon d'Automne (No. 183 in the artist's catalogue raisonné published by the Coubertin Fondation in 1989). The first version was modelled in this ductile material and has not been located. The work also recalls the complex relationships between Bernard and his founders, starting with Adrien Hébrard, in whose gallery he exhibited his small figures in 1907. Others followed, such as Eugène Rudier and especially Claude Valsuani, who stamped the cast iron with its nuanced brown-green patina with the words “cire-perdue” and the number “IV”. There are therefore several proofs of the piece, perhaps 18, as the original series of 25 copies was not completed. Collected but balanced, the composition reflects Bernard's constant concern for monumentality, even in his smallest pieces.