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Recent Acquisitions - 12 of 12

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Honoré de Balzac by Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert

Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert
French, 1828–1893
Honoré de Balzac
Plaster with terracotta slip
Height: 39 3/4 in. (101 cm)
Acquired by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2009

This monumental bust represents Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), the great novelist and playwright. A colorful character, Balzac led a dramatic life, and his personality and writings on contemporary society inspired artists and fellow writers alike. The most renowned portrait of the writer is Auguste Rodin’s (1840–1917) Monument to Balzac—a controversial, impressive standing statue commissioned in 1891, said to have been modeled on Hébert’s earlier work. Hébert’s imposing likeness—it is one and a half life size—was commissioned by Balzac’s principal publisher, Alexandre Houssiaux, many years after the writer’s death. After lending the bust to the Salon of 1877, Houssiaux displayed it in his bookshop; subscribers to his Complete Works of Balzac were given a reduced plaster version of the bust. Hébert drew inspiration for his extraordinarily lifelike representation through conversations with Balzac’s widow. According to one report, he modeled the head on that of a Parisian cook who was said to bear a resemblance to the writer. The scene represented in low relief in the socle relates to a chapter of Balzac’s treatise The Physiology of Marriage: Petty Troubles of Married Life. Published in 1829, the book examines the economics and power relationships of seduction and love, and includes a long discussion of the benefits and costs of sleeping in separate beds, the image portrayed in the relief. Emile Hébert studied with his father, the sculptor Pierre Hébert (1804–1869), before entering the workshop of the sculptor Jean-Jacques Feuchère (1807–1852). He exhibited at the Salon from 1846, at a surprisingly young age, and contributed to almost every Salon until his death. The majority of his works were portrait busts, mostly of contemporary sitters.