Lauded by Victor Hugo as the Michelangelo of Paris, French sculptor Pierre-Jean David d’Angers (1788–1856) produced many of the most iconic portraits and ambitious public monuments of the Romantic era. An experimental writer, outspoken Republican, and teacher to some of the greatest sculptors of the nineteenth century, David d’Angers cultivated friendships with an array of contemporary artists, writers, scientists, and politicians — from Honoré de Balzac and Niccolò Paganini to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Eugène Delacroix. This exhibition — the first on the artist outside of his native France — assembled forty-eight works by David on paper and in wax, terracotta, marble, bronze, and plaster, as well as rare nineteenth-century reproductions of his work in photographs and engravings. The depth and variety of David’s oeuvre was well represented, beginning with his early prize-winning tête d’expression bust La Douleur and concluding with some of the last medallions he made, such as his portrayal of French painter Rosa Bonheur (1854; private collection). Drawn largely from North American collections, many of these objects had never before been exhibited. Uniting medals, portrait busts, bas-reliefs, and statuettes, the exhibition highlighted their shared themes of homage, celebrity, and the representation of history. Together, they reveal David d’Angers’s quest to redefine the notion of a monument in a period marked by intense historicism and the ever-accelerating rhythms of modernity.
The exhibition was organized by Emerson Bowyer, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow, The Frick Collection. The accompanying catalogue includes essays by Bowyer and Jacques de Caso (Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley), as well as the first English-language translation of a short story written by David d’Angers in 1849. The exhibition was accompanied by related lectures, seminars, and other public programs.