The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris International Exhibition, 1878.
S. Lami, Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs d'Ecole Française, Paris, 1914.
L. de Margerie & E. Papet, Facing the Other: Charles Cordier, Ethnographic Sculptor, New York, 2004.
CORDIER AND ORIENTALISM
In 1848, whilst still training in the studio of François Rude, Charles Cordier (d. 1905) attracted much attention when he exhibited a bust entitled Saïd Abdallah de la tribu du Darfour at the Salon. His choice of subject was based on a combination of childhood fantasies of voyages to far-away places and the socio-political, cultural and artistic climate of the time. France, having recently conquered Algeria, had launched herself into a period of colonisation.
Orientalism and a preoccupation with the exoticism of distant continents was not something which Cordier himself had pioneered. It was artists such as Delacroix who had for twenty years already found inspiration in the intense, vibrant colors, the rich majestic clothes and the curious, mystical lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of North Africa and Asia. It was Cordier, however, who gave three-dimensional life to this trend following the overwhelming success of his bust-length portraits, Saïd Abdallah and Vénus africaine at London's Great Exhibition in 1851. Fueled by a fascination with the juxtaposition of different materials and colours, Cordier began to experiment with 'galvinoplastie', a process of silver-plating which had been carried out successfully at the Paris silversmiths Christofle since 1842. The moderate success of the new technique confirmed Cordier's backlash to the monotony of the monochrome sculpture of the Romantic movement, and in 1856, funded by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he set off for Algeria to explore the multicolored marbles and onyx of its recently re-opened quarries, and observe its various peoples at first-hand. His extensive travels throughout North Africa and Greece resulted in no less than fifty sculptures, the present example among them, executed using combinations of onyx, marbles, silvered- and gilt-bronze and enamels.
Perhaps considered to be the height of his artistic maturity, the 1860s ushered in an extra sense of opulence in his use of materials and a greater ambition in the scale of his works. As a result, lampadaires or porte-torchères, rather than busts, dominated the offerings at the Salons and International Exhibitions. Cordier's grand scale torchères, including his initial 1862 chef d'ouevre Torchère femme arabe, which was purchased by the Empress Eugénie for the Salon Galerie at Fontainebleau, essentially marked the culmination of his 'research into polychrome, both technically and esthetically.'(L. de Margerie & E. Papet, New York, 2004, p. 77). Like his contemporaries, Cordier turned out commercial works, including reductions, terracotta reproductions and unadorned versions of his popular models for a growing middle class. However it is his life-size torchères, tailored specifically for a well-to-do sect, that are considered a tour de force among his later works. These exquisite figures reiterate Léon Lagranges 1865 commentary in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts that Cordier's 'lavish sculpture requires lavish surroundings' (L. de Margerie & E. Papet, New York, 2004, p. 77). There is no doubt that the utmost level of drama resonates through the drapery folds and the enamelled jewellery exudes a certain opulence to balance what de Margerie and Papet refer to as the 'perfect union of materials.'
This example of Femme Indienne portant une vase sur épaule gauche is a newly rediscovered cast not listed in De Margarie and Papet's catalogue raisonné. The plaster model is listed as completed in 1865 and now in a private collection in Cairo. No exhibition record is known for the model or subsequent casts. The catalogue raisonné further documents only two other examples of the present model, and each although not conceived to pendent one other, is paired with a Cordier’s Femme Indienne portant un vase sur la tête. The first being polychrome bronze examples like the present lot (cat. no. 565 and 566), sold Christie’s, New York, 22 October 2008, lot 60 ($362,500); and the second being a pair of bronze, onyx, marble and enamel versions (cat. no. 567 and 568), which were cast by Parisian fondeur Lerolle Frères and later exhibited in their stand at the 1878 Exposition universelle in Paris.
Interestingly, some scholars speculate that the model for the present torchère together with Femme Indienne portant un vase sur la tête and Femme arabe later served as the base to the Cordier's Fontaine égyptienne, designed for the Garden Esbekieh in Cairo and exhibited in plaster at the 1869 Paris Salon. However, as the fountain was never executed beyond the exhibition model, very little can be confirmed from the surviving Salon photographs regarding the identity of the three figures referred to only as 'figures de Nubienne, d'Abyssienne et de Fellah.'