Antoine Bourdelle

Sir James George Frazer


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Antoine Bourdelle 1861–1929
Object: 692 × 311 × 400 mm, 15.2 kg
Presented by Lady Frazer 1925

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Although best known for his monumental sculptures, Bourdelle also produced a number of busts and portraits. Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941) was an eminent anthropologist, whose widely-read book The Golden Bough (1890) traced recurrent patterns in the myths and religious practices of early cultures around the world. This bust was originally painted, reflecting Bourdelle’s interest in the polychromatic sculpture of the ancient Greeks. Frazer himself wrote “I don’t know if in fact my face has all that gravity, all that philosophical profundity; but... I should be glad if after my death this portrait alone was kept and all the others destroyed’.

Antoine Bourdelle was born in Montauban, France, in 1861 and died near Paris in 1929.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Antoine Bourdelle 1861-1929

N04115 Sir James George Frazer 1922

Inscribed 'JAMES GEORGE FRAZER' on the front and 'SCUPTEUR [sic] | ANTOINE | BOURDELLE | 1922 | PARIS', with monogram, l. side
Tinted plaster, 27 1/4 x 12 x 15 3/4 (69 x 31 x 40)
Presented by Lady Frazer 1925
Exh: RA, London, May-August 1922 (1301); Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, Glasgow, September-December 1922 (62, repr.); Royal Academy of Arts Bicentenary Exhibition 1768-1968, RA, London, December 1968-March 1969 (758)
Lit: James George Frazer, Sur Ernest Renan (Paris 1923), pp. 29-31, woodcut of bust repr. as frontispiece; Emile-François Julia, Antoine Bourdelle, Maître d'Oeuvre (Paris 1930), pp.114-15, detail repr. pl.32; Ionel Jianou and Michel Dufet, Bourdelle (Paris 1965), p.113
Repr: Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, 1 April 1922, p.149; La Renaissance de l'Art Français, VII, 1924, p.105 (bronze)

Sir James George Frazer, OM (1854-1941), the eminent anthropologist; author of The Golden Bough and numerous other works. Mme Bourdelle wrote on 17 October 1954 that he was introduced to Bourdelle by her brother-in-law Dr Couchoud. Bourdelle was extremely interested by the character of the anthropologist and wanted to make his bust. Sir James agreed immediately. During the sittings he neither moved nor spoke, saying that he had the impression a masterpiece was being created and wished to assist it with all his power. When it was finished he was very enthusiastic.

'This bust ... seems to me a very fine work of art and in a style which recalls Greek sculpture of the best period ... I don't know if in fact my face has all that gravity, all that philosophical profundity; but if the sculptor has succeeded in seizing my true thought, in catching it, so to speak, at its highest flight, I should be glad if after my death this portrait alone was kept and all the others destroyed' (J.G. Frazer, op. cit., pp.30-1).

It has been cast in an edition of eight bronzes, and there are bronze casts in the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; the Glasgow City Art Gallery; the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris; and the Musée Reattu, Arles (the last being on loan from the artist's daughter Mme Rhodia Dufet Bourdelle). Two further bronzes may be added as artist's proofs. In addition, the Musée Bourdelle owns a polychromed version, with the colour integrated into the material. Mme Dufet Bourdelle writes of this (letter of 28 February 1974): 'I cannot tell you the name of this material for it has none. In fact my father invented this material (which is not baked) and did not give it a name. Furthermore he died without telling us the secret so that we do not know exactly what it consists of. Bourdelle was greatly interested in the use of polychrome at the end of his life and death interrupted him when he was about to make some large statues in this material, baked but with the colour in the mass, and he said to my mother: "Now is the time I shall begin my work". He nevertheless made several experiments on these lines including the bust of Irène Millet in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.'

The colours on this polychrome bust are thought to have faded somewhat, and are now pale and very uneven. The eyebrows are brownish grey, the beard the same colour but paler; the robe is chrome yellow, strong in places but very patchy; sides of base pinker; lips distinctly pink; face pale whitish pink; neck and ears orange-pink; hair tinted greyish but with a good deal of yellow at one side; eyes pale pink like the face, but with faint indications that they may at one time have been coloured.

The Musée Bourdelle also possesses five watercolours of Sir James George Frazer's head, evidently done as studies for the polychroming. One shows the head in profile, another in three-quarter view, while a third is of the head from the back. There are also two of details: one of one eye only and the other of the eyes and the beard. Several of these drawings have colour notes.

Descriptions in the reviews confirm that the version of this bust exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1922 was coloured. Thus, according to The Times, 9 May 1922, p.11: 'That of Sir James Frazer, with its colour delicately applied, is both an interesting experiment and a fine portrait'. Similarly, the Connoisseur, LXIII, 1922, p.177 refers to 'Mr A. Bourdelle's tinted bust, strongly influenced by the Greek antique, of Sir James George Frazer'. The bust shown shortly afterwards at Glasgow, presumably the same, was also described in the Glasgow Herald, 30 September 1922, p.10 as 'slightly tinged with colour'.

Although the Tate's bust was originally catalogued as a 'coloured plaster', it is now a dirty putty colour and the reference to colouring was until recently thought to be a mistake. However, careful re-examination shows a number of small scattered traces of pink, probably poster paint, especially behind one ear, and a few traces of yellow ochre on the tunic. The probability is that it was a painted plaster bust - not one with the colour integrated into the material - and that almost all the colouring was lost at the time of the flooding of the Gallery basement in 1928. According to Mme Dufet Bourdelle, the coloured bust now in the Musée Bourdelle is much too fragile to have been allowed to travel, so the work exhibited in London and Glasgow in 1922 (though apparently lent by the artist) was probably this particular version. The Royal Academy sales record shows that this bust was available in marble, stone and bronze for 25,000, 20,000 and 15,000 frs. respectively.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.69-70, reproduced p.69

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