Aimé Jules Dalou was born in Paris in 1838 the son of a humble glove maker. His childhood genius in modeling clay was noticed by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux who persuaded Dalou's parents to send him to the Petit École and then the École Nationale des Beaux Arts, all along with private lessons from Carpeaux who Dalou cherished as his only master. A lifelong republican, the fall of the second Empire brought Dalou a position at the Louvre during the short-lived Commune but subsequent exile to London with his family in 1871. Dalou found enormous success in England with a succession of patrons culminating with Queen Victoria no less. It was from this period that the present bust dates, produced as it was after the lifesize (53¾ in. high) terracotta full figure group of La Paysanne Française which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1873 and is now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (no. A.8-1993). The Duke of Westminster wanted to buy it but Sir Coutts Lindsay had already secured it for 300 guineas. Its popularity led to two further large versions (49 in. high), one for the collector James Staats Forbes (also now in the V&A no. A.27-1912) and one in the Hermitage, acquired by Grand Duke Alexander, the future Alexander III, when he came to London in 1874. This bust shares with all three full-size groups the same colour and quality of terracotta - from a vein of fine terracotta discovered around Watcombe, Devonshire, during the late 1860s. Dalou also used the flat ionic platform on top of the socle for his terracotta portraits of Angelique Morand (Musée D'Orsay) and Dorothy Heseltine (Carnegie Museum) and is borrowed from Carpeaux who also used it in his works in the medium. Dalou no doubt sought to capitalize on the success of the full-figure groups by producing this bust version. Conceivably therefore intended as one of an edition, the only found comparable is a similar terracotta bust which was illustrated on the cover of Art and Antiques (17 November 1973), although this was possibly the present example. Later bronze casts are also recorded. That the present bust is a rare original cast by Dalou is ratified by a review of an exhibition at the Dudley Gallery in 1874 which states that 'the centre of the room is occupied by a full size replica of Dalou's justly admired group of the 'Paysanne Francaise' and her baby. Another repetition of the head only is in a similar position at the Dudley Gallery' (cat no. 412).
We are grateful to Brian Landy, Dalou scholar, for his help in preparing this catalogue note.