Monday, 20 August 2012

Henri Bouchard (1875-1960)

This finely modelled French bronze medal (medaille) was created by the French artist, sculptor and medallist, Henri Bouchard (1875-1960) an extremely talented man who during the 1920's and 30's created some outstanding art deco sculpture only to be ostracised as a collaborator after WW11.


His life story begins in 1875 with his birth in Dijon, his father a carpenter. I can't find any information about his early childhood or what inspired his artistic talent. However, his artistic training began in Dijon where he attended the local Ecole D'Beaux Art and for a time trained as a stone mason. (my translation might be worng - try the source) However, his art education did lead him to Paris and the Academie Julian art school followed by time in the studio of Louis Ernest Barries (1841-1905) the French monumental sculptor.


Further study took him to the Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux Arts, also in Paris and it was during this period that he was awarded the 1901 1st prize at the Grand Prix de Rome for his relief panel titled "Oedipe et Antigone Chasses De Thebes"(left). After this success his travels took him to Morocco, Tunisia and Greece, before returning to Paris and a return to the Academie Julian this time as a professor of sculptor rather than a mere student and all by the age of 35 !

It wasn't until after his return to Paris in 1907 that he developed his own style, moving away from the classical inspired subjects, such as his prize winning Oedipe ! His style develops through the 1910's to the Art Deco designs that I admire and that we see in his medal designs. Unfortunately, this development was interrupted by WW1, when he was called up to serve in the Camouflage section in a Infantry Regiment.


He developed his own version of the "moderne" style; such that his work was included in the 1925 L'Exposition Internationale Des Art Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne" the very exhibition that lends it's anglocised name to the whole genre - "ART DECO". His contribution included a bronze medal, several winged victory statues and friezes on the "Fontiane du Pavillon de la Manufacture de Serves" 

"Head of Victory" c1922

Bronze medaille - "Marseille Exposition Nationale Coloniale" 1922

Commemorative medal c1929

His creative zenith was in the period from 1922 until the beginning of WW11, creating several monumental works and many smaller more commercial items, such as the medal. Which I guess, was the cash crop to many sculptors,  which paid the living wage whilst they waited for or working on the larger commissions, that isn't to belittle these works, just commercial fact of life.

Then comes his downfall !! in the turmoil of World War Two and life in occupied Paris. He was invited along with a group of prominent artists by Joseph Goebbels for a grand tour of Nazi Germany. His comments praising the status of artists in Nazi Germany, wasn't well received by colleagues and the public, such that after liberation of Paris he was suspended from his professorship and branded a collaborator. A mistake, error of judgement, just saying what he saw or collaboration !!

He died in 1960, with his Paris home opening soon after in 1962 as a museum dedicated to his art. Sadly this closed in 2007, with the collection being donated to the City of Roubaix.


For a more visual story of his life and works, try www.bouchard-sculpteur.com (largely in French)

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