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Visitor trails Reception Pieces, The Royal Academy

Sculptures - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

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Petite galerie de l'Académie
Petite galerie de l'Académie

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

00Introduction

Sculptors seeking admission to the French Royal Academy submitted works in plaster or clay for initial acceptance by a jury, and were then asked to execute a set piece (or "reception piece") in marble, within a specified time limit. Most of these reception pieces of are preserved in the Louvre.

The Académie Royale de la Peinture et Sculpture was founded in 1648 at the initiative of the young painter Charles Le Brun. The Academy sought to free artists from the constraints of the earlier guilds and apprenticeship systems, thereby ensuring the separation of creativity from commercial concerns. The twelve founders included three sculptors: Jacques Sarazin, Gérard Van Opstal and Simon Guillain. Louis XIV's reign began in 1661, and by 1663 he had appointed Jean-Baptiste Colbert as Surintendant des Bâtiments du Roi (effectively the king's personal minister of culture). Convinced that painting and sculpture could be harnessed for the purposes of royal propaganda, Colbert and Louis XIV established the Royal Academy as a center of excellence, protected by and serving the Crown. Sculptors wishing to become members (or "academicians") first submitted a small number of works in plaster or terracotta. A secret vote was then taken and, if accepted, the sculptor was next requested by the director to execute a specific subject in marble, within a set time limit. Occasionally, the Academy also dictated the design of the work. These "reception pieces" adapted the tradition of the "masterpiece" or test piece made by guild members seeking promotion from the rank of journeyman to master. The reception pieces became part of the Academy's collection, but were seized at the Revolution and dispersed to various other institutions. Most of the works of sculpture are preserved in the Louvre.

 

How to get to the next stop:

Starting from the Hall Napoléon under the Pyramid, enter the Richelieu wing. Turn left into the Cour Marly, then right to reach the first sculpture in this tour. On the left wall towards the far end you will find three medallions, including one by the French sculptor Clerion, which represents Saint James the Less.

Saint James the Less
Saint James the Less

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

01St. James the Less

Article XIII of the statutes of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture) drawn up in 1664, stated that upon election to the academy, sculptors should donate a "morceau de réception" or reception piece, in the form of a marble relief. Reliefs remained the preferred option for reception pieces until the late seventeenth century, and usually fell into one of three main subject categories: religious medallions, allegorical scenes glorifying the Academy, and allegorical scenes in honor of Louis XIV. The relief of St James the Less, by the Provençal sculptor Jean-Jacques Clérion (1689) is typical of the earliest of the three categories, the religious medallions.

How to get to the next stop:

Retrace your steps across the crypt and turn right before the entrance to the Cour Puget. Nicolas Coustou's relief is on the wall facing the Cour, on the extreme right.

The God of Health shows the Bust of Louis XIV to France, or Allegory alluding to the Recovery of the King
The God of Health shows the Bust of Louis XIV to France, or Allegory alluding to the Recovery of the King

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

02Allegory alluding to the recovery of the King

Le Dieu de la Santé Montre à la France le Buste de Louis XIV ("The God of Health Showing France the Bust of Louis XIV") of 1693 is typical of the reception pieces featuring allegorical scenes in honor of Louis XIV. Both the subject and design were dictated to the sculptor, Nicolas Coustou, by the court painter Charles Le Brun.The history of the piece also illustrates the sometimes difficult relationship between artists and the Academy. Nicolas Coustou was accepted as an academician upon his return from Rome in 1687, and was very soon monopolized by the prestigious Versailles workshops, to the extent that he neglected to present his reception piece, and was struck off the Academy's list of "approved" artists. He was accepted once again in 1693, however, and presented this relief.

How to get to the next stop:

The next sculpture in this tour, a portrait of Jules Hardouin by Jean-Louis Lemoyne, is not displayed currently. However, you will be able to see a portrait of Charles le Brun by Jean-Louis Lemoyne's master, Antoine Coysevox.

Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1645-1708)
Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1645-1708)

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

03Jules Hardouin

Reliefs were the principal form for reception pieces by sculptors, with a few notable exceptions. Some artists produced expressive heads studies such as La Douleur (Sorrow) by Balthazar Marsy in 1673 (now lost) or La Joie (Joy) by Jean-Baptiste Tuby in 1680 (Versailles). There are also a few rare portraits, notably that of Le Brun by Antoine Coysevox in 1679. Coysevox's pupil Jean-Louis Lemoyne was commissioned to produce a bust of the Academy's protector, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, for his reception in 1703. Only one other bust was executed as a reception piece during the eighteenth century: that of Louis XV by Étienne Gois in 1770 (Versailles).

How to get to the next stop:

Return to the previous room, where the relief by Coustou may be seen. The next stop in your tour, Corneille Van Clève's statuette, is displayed on the opposite wall, towards the back.

Polyphemus
Polyphemus

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

04Polyphemus Sitting on a Rock

Polyphème Assis sur son Rocher (Polyphemus Sitting on a Rock) by Corneille Van Clève (1681) is thought to be the only fully three-dimensional statuette made as a reception piece during the seventeenth century. From the early eighteenth century, however, statuettes became the rule and remained so until the Academy was abolished in 1793. The Academy requested a figure of Galatea from the sculptor Robert Le Lorrain for his reception in 1771 (Washington, National Gallery of Art). The work is a pendant to Van Clève's figure of the Cyclops Polyphemus (Galatea's suitor according to classical legend).

How to get to the next stop:

The next work, a statuette by François Barois, stands in front of the same wall, on the left.

Cleopatra Dying
Cleopatra Dying

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

05Cleopatra Dying

In the eighteenth century, reception pieces in the form of reliefs were abandoned in favor of statuettes in the round. François Barois's Cléopâtre Mourant (Dying Cleopatra) was the first such statuette to be made, marking his admission to the Academy in 1700. The theme is typical of reception pieces made in the early eighteenth century, when subjects inspired by mythology or ancient history predominated. Myths could be courtly or heroic: Barois's Cleopatra combines both in a composition which is dramatic as well as sensual. These rather theatrical representations, full of movement, were typical of the period. Equally theatrical, but in the heroic vein, were Guillaume I Coustou's Hercule sur le Bûcher (Hercules on the Funeral Pyre, 1704), René Charpentier's Méléagre (Meleager, 1713) and François Dumont's Titan Foudroyé (Titan Struck by Lightning, 1712).

How to get to the next stop:

Take the staircase from the Cour Puget to the statue of Milon de Crotone (Milo of Crotona) by Puget himself. Cross the courtyard to Pigalle's figure of Mercury. In the sculpture halls, go to Room 25, towards the back on your left-hand side. The next work, a statuette by Cayot, is at the far end, near the window giving onto the courtyard, on the left.

The Death of Dido
The Death of Dido

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

06The Death of Dido

La Mort de Didon (The Death of Dido), with which Claude-Augustin Cayot was received in 1711, is another highly theatrical composition. The piece is a technical and artistic tour de force: a perfect opportunity for Cayot to demonstrate his mastery of composition, drapery and the nude, his subtle attention to detail and his skillful rendering of texture. The carefully-arranged accessories and elements making up the funeral pyre constitute a brilliant still-life in sculpture.

How to get to the next stop:

Turn round towards Jean Thierry's Leda and the Swan, which occupies a pedestal in the center of the room.

Leda and the Swan
Leda and the Swan

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

07Leda and the Swan

The theme of Leda and the Swan, a work presented by Jean Thierry for his reception in 1714, is taken from a less commonly-depicted strand of courtly mythology. Thierry departs from academic tradition to produce a highly sensual interpretation of his erotic subject. The contrasting play of light on the swan's feathers and Leda's smooth, queenly flesh is accentuated by the latter's highly polished surface.

How to get to the next stop:

The next sculpture in this tour, Neptune Calming the Waves, by Lambert-Sigisbert Adam, is not on display currently. But other rococo works, such as the Fall of Icarus by Paul Ambroise Slodtz, may be seen in this room.

Neptune Calming the Waves
Neptune Calming the Waves

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

08Neptune Calming the Waves

The Salon was an exhibition of contemporary art organized by the Academy and named for the Salon Carré at the Louvre, where the first shows were held. Initially sporadic, the Salon was organized annually or bi-annually from 1737 onwards, and featured the work of academicians and artists whose submissions had been accepted by a panel of judges. Sculpture was absent from 1718-36, but subsequently returned with the work of a prominent new generation of sculptors, including Adam, Slodtz, Coustou and Lemoyne. Their reception pieces embodied the vibrant, narrative, virtuoso style known as "rococo". Inspired by the Italian Baroque sculptor Bernini, their work is characterized by a taste for eloquent gestures, declamatory poses, turbulent drapery, heightened expressivity and rich ornamentation. The figure of Neptune Calmant les Flots Irrités (Neptune Calming the Waves), presented by Lambert-Sigisbert Adam for his reception in 1737, is notably Baroque in flavor.

How to get to the next stop:

Return to the window looking onto the courtyard. You will see Jean-Baptiste Pigalle's Mercury in a display case to the left.

Mercury Fastening His Heel-Wings
Mercury Fastening His Heel-Wings

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

09Mercury Attaching his Wings

By the mid-eighteenth century, works heralding a return to a more restrained, classically-inspired style were already in evidence. Jean-Baptiste Pigalle presented a figure of Mercure Attachant ses Talonnières (Mercury Attaching his Winged Sandals) for his reception in 1744. The statuette was both a lively allegory of speed, and a statement in favor of a serene aesthetic based on purity of line and a more restrained approach to the representation of gesture and expression. The following year, Edme Bouchardon demonstrated his own quest for noble simplicity with a figure of Jésus-Christ Appuyé sur la Croix (Christ Leaning on the Cross).
Pigalle initially presented a model of the figure of Mercury for acceptance by the Academy prior to his formal reception. Exceptionally, he was allowed to execute it in marble for his reception piece. This practice became more common in the second half of the eighteenth century. The most popular reception pieces were copied as "exemplary" models, and distributed in bronze or plaster. The Sèvres workshops sold miniature versions in biscuit porcelain, including Pigalle's Mercury, which was highly praised by the painter Chardin.

How to get to the next stop:

The next sculpture is Étienne-Maurice Falconet's Milon de Crotone (Milo of Crotona), in the center of the room, on the right-hand pedestal.

Milo of Croton
Milo of Croton

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

10Milo of Croton

Some reception pieces are highly original in character, such as Étienne-Maurice Falconet's group Milon de Crotone (Milo of Croton), a personal homage to the work by Puget, for whom Falconet professed profound admiration.
The piece also illustrates the difficulties experienced by certain artists in their dealings with the Academy. In 1744, the Academy rejected Falconet's original plaster model for the group, then requested a different subject, and finally accepted the first model after all. Falconet, for his part, took ten years to complete the marble group, for his reception in 1754. By the time of the 1755 Salon, this dramatic and spirited piece appeared out-dated in light of the more recent classical revival in sculpture, which favored sobriety, restraint, serenity of expression and simplicity of form. A similar misfortune was to befall Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, the brother of Lambert-Sigisbert Adam.

How to get to the next stop:

Return to the left-hand pedestal, with Lambert-Sigisbert Adam's figure of Neptune. Above this is Prometheus Bound by Adam's brother, Nicolas-Sébastien.

Prometheus Bound
Prometheus Bound

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

11Prometheus Bound

As the eighteenth century progressed, sculptors became less and less concerned with the production of reception pieces, marking their formal appointment as "academicians". The Salon was by now the principal showcase and source of public prestige for contemporary artists. Since the Salon was open to all artists whose work had been accepted by the Academy's initial selection committee, few felt pressured to complete their finished works in marble. Thus Nicolas-Sébastien Adam took twenty-seven years to finish his Prométhée Enchaîné (Prometheus Bound), presented in 1762, while Claude-Clair Francin waited thirty years to present his Christ à la Colonne (Christ at the Column) in 1767, only six years before his death. When Adam exhibited the Prometheus at the 1763 Salon, his Baroque style no longer matched the latest trends in sculpture, and drew sarcastic comment from the critic and commentator Denis Diderot, in his review of that year.

How to get to the next stop:

The next work in this tour is Jean-Jacques Caffieri's figure of a River-God. It may be seen at the far end of the room, to the left, near the window looking onto the Rue de Rivoli.

A river
A river

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

12A River

By the 1750s, sculpture was experiencing a revival of the classical style, based on ancient Greek and Roman works, while individual artists continued to vacillate between different trends. Jean-Jacques Caffieri's reception piece of 1759 is a river-god in the Antique tradition (an idealized, bearded male nude with a vase). However, the figure's pose is clearly inspired by Florentine mannerism, as is Caffieri's masterly use of varying degrees of finish (compare the exquisitely-modeled hands and feet with the natural force of the water pouring out of the vase).

How to get to the next stop:

Turn round to see Pierre Julien's Dying Gladiator; which occupies its own pedestal in the center of the room.

Dying Gladiator
Dying Gladiator

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

13Dying Gladiator

From the 1770s onwards, neoclassicism conquered the Academy, with many artists drawing inspiration from Antique models. Félix Lecomte's reception piece of 1771, Oedipe et Phorbas (Oedipus and Phorbas) is typical of this trend. Compositions were becoming simpler and more monumental. Pierre Julien's Gladiateur Mourant (Dying Gladiator), marked his reception in 1779 and the triumph of neoclassicism at the Academy. Other contemporary reception pieces included Jean-Antoine Houdon's Morphée (Morpheus) of 1777 and Louis-Simon Boizot's Méléagre (Meleager) of 1778. Like Falconet, Julien's reception as an academician was problematic: the rejection of his first acceptance piece, Ganymède et l'Aigle de Jupiter (The Rape of Ganymede) in 1776 almost succeeded in discouraging him completely. Like Julien, Jean-Joseph Foucou (a pupil of Caffieri), was accepted at his second attempt, only to have his reception piece rejected (Marsyas, finished in 1783, now lost) - a still greater humiliation. He was finally received two years later with Un Fleuve (A River-god) of 1785.

How to get to the next stop:

To get back to the Hall Napoléon under the Pyramid, retrace your steps to the Cour Puget, then take the exit on your left. Go forward, then turn right.

 

Author(s) :

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