Although it was during the 19th Century that polychrome sculpture became increasingly fashionable, its establishment did not come without a fight. The puritan ideals of the 18th century, that sculpture can only be white as it was in Greek art, took a hit with the discussion of Phidias' monumental gold and ivory statue of Athena and Parthenos, in John Stuart and Nicholas Revett's work entitled Antiquities of Athens, which was published as early as 1762. Although this work introduced evidence that polychrome technique was not only utilized but favored in Ancient Greece, art historians of the late 18th and early 19th Century were quick to accuse the great Phidias of having lacked taste. By 1845 the great patron of the arts in France, Duc de Luynes, was commissioning Charles Simart to reconstruct Phidias' Athena Parthenos for the stairwell at Château de Dampierre. He would place it immediately in front of Ingres' famous fresco, Golden Age.
The 19th Century was a time of great experimentation, as well as a time for change. In painting, great advances were made in compositional structures and color combinations, and a large variety of subject matter was available to the artists. Nevertheless, '[the experts] consciously ignored the common ground of time and space, and continued to isolate painting and sculpture from one and other' (A. Blühm, The Color of Sculpture, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 14). Until John Gibson's Tinted Venus in 1854, it was very unlikely for a sculptor to receive positive criticism with a polychrome statue. Even Cordier, who was blessed with major commissions such as the Paris Opéra and the Rothschilds' Château de Ferrières, was often attacked by critics for his bravura.
It would be the Second Empire's love of luxury that would create the excellent environment for the production, enjoyment and appreciation of polychrome sculpture. Although Cordier's bust of his patron, Empress Eugénie received sharp criticism at the Salon of 1863, his reputation and the number of important commissions he received increased rapidly. Empress Eugénie and her court during the Second Empire were criticized for their flamboyance but nevertheless, artists such as Cordier, Alfred Stevens and James Jacques Joseph Tissot enjoyed great popularity, significant financial success and frequent as well as important commissions.
Cordier, well aware of such contradictory concepts as fame and privacy, particularly concerning his noble patrons, chose to elaborate on the concept of anonymity when dealing with portraiture in his art. Following the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, he ceased to title his work after the name of the sitter but instead adopted a more general approach and began classifying the ethnicity of the sitter, thereby blurring the fine line between art and anthropology. Furthermore, his use of color and various materials such as lapis lazuli, enamel, marble became his tools in order to document exactitude and fine detail. Cordier's sculpture allowed the Empire to create timeless hallways lined with faces from all around its reign; in fact a use of portraiture very similar to that of the Roman Empire.
It is important to note that the present work was exhibited at the 1876 International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Cordier was well aware of the opportunities presented by the rising American art market and took full advantage of this in order to establish himself as a leading sculptor in this new continent.