This summer’s ‘Temps Fort’ sales in the French capital have thrown up an usually strong contingent of sculpture.
Some lots, like the Bouchardon bust sold
for€3m (£2.5m), were expected to hit the headlines, but in many
cases bidders were prepared to compete strongly for lots that had
been less fancied.
In sculptural terms there was no doubt
that the most important lot in Paris this summer was the marble
portrait bust of Charles Frederic de La Tour du Pin de Bourbon,
Marquis de Gouvernet and Governor of Montélimar, sold by Aguttes (25%
buyer's premium) on June 11.
Hailed as the masterwork of Edmé
Bouchardon (1698-1762), the most celebrated and avant garde
sculptor of his time, the 2ft 6in (78cm) high bust had been
estimated at €4m. It did not reach that level but confirmed its
museum quality nevertheless when it was pre-empted by the Louvre at
The importance of the piece was evident on
a number of levels.
In purely artistic terms the portrait was
imposing and lifelike, with a powerful presence. Stylistically it
marked a dramatic break with the sculptural traditions established
in the court of Louis XIV.
The marquis is depicted à
l'antique, bare-chested with his head turned in noble profile.
His natural hair is drawn back from his brow and drops in long
curls down his neck in marked contrast to the heavy full-bottomed
wigs that characterised the high fashion of the Sun King's
Though Bouchardon had experimented with
classical style in the 1720s, creating busts for a number of
private patrons in Rome during his Italian tour, the depiction of a
French nobleman in the antique style was a new departure. The work
was commissioned in 1734 and its completion two years later is
recorded in Latin on the back of the plinth: EDMUNDUS
BOUCHARDON SCULPTOR REGIUS FACIEBAT AD 1736. Its exhibition at
the Paris Salon in 1738 sealed the sculptor's reputation.
The bust's subsequent provenance appears
to be as impeccable as its origins. Despite the wholesale
disruption of society in the late 18th century, which saw the
marquis' successors guillotined, legal documents reveal that it
left the family for the first time when it appeared at auction this
A terracotta version of this bust of
identical size and also dated 1736 is in the Musée Jacquemart-André
The avant garde nature of the Bouchardon
bust was emphasised by the appearance of another portrait bust at
Bondu's (23.92% buyer's premium) sale at Drouot
Richelieu on June 29.
Executed more than a decade later, this
was a terracotta of Voltaire by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (1704-78)
which depicted the philosopher very much à la française,
in full wig with a lace shirt at the neck. Just 11in (28cm) high,
this early and lively depiction of the author of
Candide and champion of the Enlightenment sold for
nearly four times its estimate at €100,000 (£83,335).
Rigaud in Lead
One of the more speculative lots in the
Paris summer series was a 21in (53cm) high bust in lead sold by Fraysse
(24% buyer's premium) on June 6. Dated to the early 18th century,
it depicted a gentleman in an open-necked shirt wearing a
This relaxed and informal portrait is
presumed to have been inspired by the well-known 1698 oil-on-canvas
self-portrait of Hyacinthe Rigaud now in the Museum of Perpignan,
his home town.
Rigaud was the pre-eminent portrait
painter of his time and is best known for his imposing royal
portraits, particularly his 1701 oil of Louis XIV, now in the
Louvre, but he was also adept with less formal likenesses and the
quality of the lead bust combined with its links to the Perpignan
self-portrait were enough to tempt bidders.
Despite the lack of any firm attribution
it sold for €97,000 (£80,835), having been estimated at just
Exchange rate: £1 = €1.2