Sunday 26 January 2014

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Sculptor

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (Paris, France, 26th January 1714 – Paris, France, 20th August 1785)

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle

Today we welcome a sculptor to the salon in the estimable form of Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, a man who rose from relatively humble beginnings to become the toast of Paris.

Pigalle was born in perhaps uninspiring circumstances, as one of seven children born to a carpenter. From a young age he showed an aptitude for art and was determined to win a place at the Académie Royale. He began his training with Robert le Lorrain and, without the wealth and privilege of some of his contemporaries, funded his own trip to Rome in 1735. Here he he studied and developed his talents with an eye on the Prix de Rome.

Mercury Attaching his Wings Jean-Baptiste Pigalle
Mercury Attaching his Wings

In fact, Pigalle did not win the Prix and returned to France in 1740, where he conceived his most famous sculpture, that of Mercury Attaching his Wings. It was an enormous critical success and he was finally awarded a place at the Académie Royale in 1744. With this ambition realised he quickly rose to the top of his field as a favourite of the royal court, particularly Madame de Pompadour.

By 1752 Pigalle was a professor at the Académie, his work on display in the courts of Europe and Russia. His sculptures are noted for their naturalism and were occasionally controversial, as seen in the shocked reception to his 1776 piece, Nude Voltaire. Tombs created by Pigalle can be seen in Notre Dame de Paris and by the time of his death, he was considered one of the foremost sculptors of his age.

Nude Voltaire by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 1753
Nude Voltaire, 1753

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