I did not know when I arrived here that students in the 18th Century used to stand on a nearby hill and recite their poems. Hence the nickname Mount Parnassus. Like many a modern flaneur, however. I associated the quartier with the jazz loving Americans of the 1920s. The habitués of the Café du Dôme rubbed shoulders with the ‘crowd’ as they called themselves; Ernest Hemmingway, Sylvia Beach, John Rodrigo Dos Passos and Ezra Pound. This was the Lost Generation fleeing prohibition living it up in cheap dodgy hotels – later to be followed by Henry Miller. These fading lyrical echoes in the shade contrasted with the undistinguished entrance to the hidden charms of the Musee.
Once into the museum, you enter the creative space of Antoine Bourdelle(1861-1928), the pupil of Rodin and the teacher of both Matisse and Giacometti. It was in 1926 that this typical Parisian atelier was to be turned into a museum. The quiet sanctuary of the front garden gave me the first glimpse of four sculpted figures including La Victoire (Victory) and l’Eloquence (Eloquence) surrounded by a secluded peristyle. At the time of my visit, I was unaware that there were over 500 works of art here. I simply sat and made a few sketches of the first few of these impressive statues.
Passing into the Great Hall, which was built in 1961, for the centenary of the artist’s birth, I encountered an impressive array of magnificent figures some of which towered way above the visitors. Interspersed between these at the further end were brightly colourful dresses by famous contemporary couturiers. This museum has frequently had special exhibitions and this focussed on the fashion of dresses from the back. (Dos à la mode}.However my attention was taken by the famously energetic sculpture of Hercules the Archer.
Bourdieu made some 12 versions of this dynamic sculpture. The model was a certain athletic Commandant Doyen-Parigot who twisted his muscular body into the required difficult posture. He contorted his body in demanding fifteen-minute sessions. Bourdelle also famously used his rather primitive Kodak camera to facilitate his project. A wealthy financier, Gabriel Thomas was deeply impressed by this statue of Hercules in 1910. Thomas together with Gabriel Astruc, the impresario that brought Rubenstein, Caruso, Toscanini and famously Diaghilev to Paris, set up a real estate company to build a new theatre. This became the Theatre des Champs-Elysee, the façade and inner atrium were, under Thomas auspices, to be decorated by Bourdelle. This was to be the debut of Art Deco style, a feature of the new modernism.
Returning through the studios there were many fine sketches by Bourdelle including those he made of the dancer Isadora Duncan. Proceeding through an outlying corridor I came across the Beethoven heads. These imaginative and expressive works began around the time he started his association of 15 years with Rodin. Altogether he made some 40 of such masterpieces.
In the tranquillity of the ivy leafed inner garden I encountered a huge and towering bronze. This was the statue of Centaure Mourant. From just where I stood, I could not see more than the torso of the horse and only by moving gingerly around the piece could I discern the twisted direction in which the head lay. Inspired by classical myth and considering its construction in 1914, Bourdelle was asked why does the centaur die? Bourdelle replied in Nietzschean mode, “He dies like all the gods- because no one believes in him any more.”