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About the object
A Bronze Figure of 'La Nature se dévoilant devant la Science' by Louis-Ernest Barrias.
French, Circa 1900.
Signed in cast 'E. Barrias' and 'Susses Fres Ed Paris'.
This alluring bronze figure is a finely cast example of Barrias's most celebrated work, an homage to advances made in scientific exploration and a masterpiece of early art nouveau. The figure depicts a young woman, the allegory of Nature, removing her veil to reveal her face and bare breasts to the cold gaze of science.
The figure first appeared in white marble at the Paris Salon of 1893 as 'La Nature mystérieuse et voilée se découvre devant la Science' and was acquired by the faculty at l'Ecole de Médecine in Bordeaux. Barrias returned to the theme a few years later exhibiting a related sculpture at the 1899 Salon, simply titled 'La Nature se dévoilant'. Following in the spirit of pioneers of polychromy such as Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier and Eugène Cornu this figure was carved using expensive and luxurious materials such as Algerian onyx for the drapery, lapis lazuli for the ribbon and malachite for the scarab. This figure is now in the collection of the Muse d'Orsay. A final version in white marble was made in 1902 and acquired by the École de Medicine in Paris.
The first bronze casts exhibited by Susse were shown in various sizes and to great critical acclaim at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Awarded a prestigious Grand Prix at the Liège Exhibition of 1905, the renowned bronzier Théodore Millet deemed the model a tour de force for the Susse firm and proclaimed it 'the finest of the works exhibited'.
Louis-Ernest Barrias (1841 - 1905) was one of the most celebrated and influential sculptors of the late nineteenth century. Along with contemporaries such as Batholdi (of Statue of Liberty fame), he was influential in re-inventing a new sophisticated approach to allegorical representation, evident in the romantic figure of Nature Revealing Herself, but also in handling themes of modernity such as his Allegory to Electricity for the Gallery of Machines at the 1889 Exposition Universelle.
Born in Paris into a family of well known artists Louis-Ernest started his career as a painter. He studied under Léon Cogniet, before later taking up sculpture under Pierre-Jules Cavelier and following his admittance to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris 1858, François Jouffroy. In 1865 Barrias won the Prix de Rome and was involved in the decoration of the Paris Opéra and the Hôtel de la Païva in the Champs-Élysées.
In 1878 he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour, an officer in 1881, and a commander in 1900. Barrias replaced Dumont at the Institut de France in 1884 and succeeded Cavelier as professor at the École des Beaux-Arts.