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This iconic patinated bronze sculpture by Alfred Boucher depicts three athletes in dynamic pose, thrusting forward with their arms outstretched to reach the finishing line. The figure is cast by the important French foundry of Ferdinand Barbedienne.
A sensation in its own time, Boucher captures in ‘Au But’ a powerful kinetic dynamism. The contradiction between the expansive drive of the figures, with their outstretched arms and elongated torsos and the straitened confinement of the base, upon which the athletes precariously balance, creates a dynamic tension that causes the viewer’s eye to be constantly moved and challenged.
‘Au But’ also displays an interesting paradox between notions of modernity and classicism in the transition of sculptural themes of the period, and confirms Boucher’s place as a true academic master. The movement and forcefulness of the figures drawn directly from life are, in a way, a precursor to a true modernist approach, while the theme and even the captured energy, reference ancient classical sculpture such as Myron’s 'Discobolus'.
Boucher's friend, the explorer Gabriel Bonvalot posed for the initial plaster composition, entitled ‘Les Coureurs’, which was exhibited at the Prix de Salon in 1886 to critical acclaim and awarded a medal première classe. He was awarded with a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1889. The contemporary critic Hippolyte Parigot commented on the bold audacity of the artist:
Ils sont trois qui touchent au but, qui y aspirent, qui y tendent de tous leurs muscles, de toute leur âme, par un farouche envolement des jambes, une avide projection des bras, et un élan musculaire de tout le corps, dans un mouvement inouï
Following the success of the plaster version of ‘Au But’, at the 1886 Salon, the French state commissioned a life-size bronze to be cast. The finished cast was exhibited at the Salon in 1887 (no. 3675), before being placed in the Luxembourg Gardens. Such was the popularity of this work; it was edited by some of the leading foundries of the day, including Barbedienne, Susse and Siot-Decauville. The present cast is one of the largest examples.
As recognition of his success Boucher was awarded France’s highest award the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1887.
Ferdinand Barbedienne (1810-1892) was the inspiration and driving force behind one of the most important French art foundries. He pioneered the use of mounts and, more commonly, bronze sculpture including figures and animals. Barbedienne produced catalogues of bronze reproductions of Greek and Roman classical sculpture and experimented with champlève and cloisonné enamels during the third quarter of the century. Barbedienne exhibited several pieces of furniture at the 1855 Paris Exhibition including an ormolu mounted oak dressing table and an ormolu mounted ebony veneered bookcase. Both pieces were executed in his favoured Renaissance revival style for furniture. Furniture with mounts signed by Barbedienne is extremely rare.
The Barbedienne foundry handled the casting of numerous national monuments and architectural schemes. Ferdinand Barbedienne himself also took an active part in the promotion of contemporary sculpture and became one of the founders for Davis d'Angers' medallions as well as much of Rude's sculpture.
His signature varied from hand written capitals to stamp in capitals, usually 'F. Barbedienne, Fondeur' or 'BARBEDIENNE PARIS'.
In 1839 Barbedienne collaborated with the inventor Achille Collas who had succeeded in enlarging and reducing works of art to arbitrary sizes by a simple mathematical calculation, allowing the accurate reduction of classical and contemporary marbles for the purpose of reproduction in bronze. In 1850 Barbedienne was commissioned to furnish the Paris town hall for which he was awarded with the médaille d'honneur at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855.
|Height||68.00 cm||(26.77 inches)|
|Width||102.00 cm||(40.16 inches)|