In the first of these two articles about paintings of sculptures, I looked at a range of paintings depicting sculpture for various reasons. The most obvious reason for including a statue in an image is when the story being told is all about that sculpture, as in the myth of Pygmalion.
The best-known version of this is told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, and where could be more appropriate. Pygmalion is there a king of Cyprus and a sculptor in ivory, who was unimpressed by the conduct of mortal women, so he carved himself a life-size statue of his perfect woman in ivory. He promptly fell in love with that, and made offerings to Aphrodite on the day of her festival. When he returned home, he kissed his statue and it came to life. He lived happily ever after with her as his wife, and they even had a daughter whose name lives on in the city of Paphos.
Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s The Origin of Sculpture (Pygmalion Praying Venus to Animate His Statue) (1786) is one of the best of the traditional accounts of this myth, but lacks any visual clue that this statue will shortly turn into a flesh-and-blood woman. It does, though, hint at another story of great interest to the arts: Pygmalion as the original sculptor, which isn’t told by Ovid.
Edward Burne-Jones’ solution to the telling of this myth was to paint a series titled Pygmalion and the Image. He did this twice, once between 1868-70, and again in 1878. I show here just two of the paintings from his second version of the series, which were exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1879, and helped secure Burne-Jones’ position as one of Britain’s leading artists.
The Heart Desires shows Pygmalion in his celibacy. In the left background are Propoetides, or other women engaged in similar debauchery. They are echoed by and contrasted with Pygmalion’s statues of the three Graces on the right. He stands alone, pondering his next sculpture.
The Hand Refrains shows Pygmalion’s statue of the perfect woman. He stands back, his tools still in his hands and scattered at the foot of his work. Too scared to touch the statue now, he looks longingly at it, as if falling in love.
Jean-Léon Gérôme is now best known for his highly detailed realist paintings of classical Roman scenes, particularly the games. But he was also an accomplished sculptor, specialising in polychrome figures. As his sculpting of these developed from 1878, so it was reflected in his paintings.
His The End of the Pose (1886) is one of a series he made of unusual compound paintings, which are at once self-portraits of Gérôme as a sculptor, studies in the relationship between a model and their sculpted double, and forays into issues of what is seen, visual revelation, and truth.
Here, while Gérôme is cleaning up, his model is seen covering up her sculpted double with sheets, as she remains completely naked. Apart from various diversionary entertainments, including a couple of stuffed birds and a model boat, there is a single red rose on the wooden platform on which the model and statue stand, a symbol of thanks from the artist to his model.
This version of Pygmalion and Galatea (1890) was an unsuccessful study, and he decided instead to paint a less controversial view from behind the couple. This is, perhaps, the logical conclusion of his series of paintings of the sculptor at work, only in this one, Gérôme himself is of course absent.
Gérôme’s finished Pygmalion and Galatea (c 1890) extends the marble effect a little higher, and by showing Galatea’s buttocks and back and concealing the kiss, it stays on the right side of contemporary concepts of decency.
His attention to detail is, as always, delightful, with two masks against the wall at the right, Cupid ready with his bow and arrow, an Aegis bearing the head of Medusa, and a couple of statues about looking and seeing. For Gérôme too recognised the other stories about sculpture and seeing which could be brought in to enrich Ovid’s original narrative.
Sculpturae Vitam Insufflat Pictura (Painting Breathes Life into Sculpture) (1893) is an interesting combination of manifesto for his polychrome sculpture, and a celebration of the archaeological discoveries at Tanagra, Greece. In doing so, it starts to approach the long-running theme of visual revelation and truth, with its painted miniature humans, mimicking reality, and the wooden box of masks in the foreground, which may also refer to his previous paintings.
In his Artist’s Model from 1895, body language and the many visual cues placed around the painting are key, there being little scope for facial expression. The main participants – Emma, his model, Gérôme himself, and his marble sculpture – are central, and carefully arranged. Scattered at the edges of the floor are reminders of gladiatoral armour, and other props used for his paintings, together with one of his polychrome sculptures of a woman with a hoop, at the right edge.
Then, in about 1902, Gérôme returned to his series of paintings of himself as a sculptor. His Self-Portrait Painting The Ball Player is a fascinating variation of the traditional form of self-portrait, in that he is here applying the colour to one of his polychrome sculptures, a figure of a ball player, who closely resembles those seen earlier in his paintings of sculptures.
I finish with the exact reverse of the previous paintings: an example of a painting which was turned into sculpture.
When Renoir was living in Cagnes, he was a close friend of the sculptor Aristide Maillol (mentioned in the previous article as a great friend of Pierre Bonnard), who encouraged the painter to develop sculptures based on his paintings. It was Maillol who introduced Renoir to Richard Guino, a young Catalan artist who subsequently worked with Renoir to create derivative 3D works of art. By this time, Renoir’s rheumatoid arthritis was so severe that he was confined to a wheelchair much of the time, and there was no way that he would have been able to make any sculptures himself. Instead, Renoir directed Guino’s hands to shape the clay and other materials.
This bas relief, I think created in clay, was formed by the young sculptor under the direction of Renoir, to metamorphose his 2D painting of The Judgement of Paris into three dimensions.
That was apparently cast in bronze to create this relief. Renoir had no need for a 3D printer.
We have now come full circle.