Etienne Maurice Falconet

Etienne Maurice Falconet

Most commonly referred to as Falconet, Etienne Maurice was the unsung hero of the French Rococo art during the 18th century. He was an underrated artist in general, being overshadowed by the popularity of his contemporaries such as Jean Honore-Fragonard, Chardin Jean, Nicolas Lancret, and Antoine Watteau. This less glorification of Falconet’s works could be due to his chosen area of specialization, which was nude painting.

Falconet was also an esteemed sculptor of equestrian monuments. His canvas material was bronze and his sculptural works were identified as French Baroque. An example of his most famous equestrian statue is The Monument to St. Peter the Great, also known as The Bronze Horseman. It took him a dozen of years to finish this statue, which began in 1766 until 1778.

It is also worth mentioning that Falcone had mastery of doing marble statues. He also sculpted a few nude reliefs in his effort to stick to what he does best artistically. Falconet was one of the few nude artists at the time that had the ability to give his characters a “life” of its own by adding intricate details into the statue. This would then create an impression to the audience as though the sculptural works are speaking (unto to them).

Few examples of Falconet’s eminent art works include Bather (1757), Pygmalion and Galatee, and Seated Cupid.

Early Life

Etienne Maurice Falconet was born around 1716 in Paris, France. His family belonged to the working class and his parents had to support a large family. Thus, at an early age, Falconet was employed by a carpenter as an apprentice. Luckily for the artist he quickly developed his exceptional skill in clay that he capture the attention of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, a local sculptor.

Falconet had then entered the studio of Lemoyne as a pupil. There he would have befriended Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, who later in their careers have surpassed Falconet in terms of popularity.

Falconet’s membership with the French Academy in 1754 helped him establish a solid career. He executed Milo of Croton to be able to qualify for the academy’s membership and scholarships. This work had begun a series of successful art exhibitions for Falconet at the academy’s The Salon, beginning 1755 to 1757. Within this period, he created The Bather and L’Amour. Both of these sculptural works have been proofs to the artist’s sensitivities, eroticism and decorative style.

Early Success

During his active years under the wings of the national academy of painters and sculptors, Falconet would become a favorite to Madame de Pompadour, for whom he began working with in 1757. He quickly rose to prominence in Pompadour’s court, as he was promoted to hold the Director of Sculpture position at the Royal Porcelain factory.

As the Director, Falconet was responsible for leading the production of small-scale porcelain figures. His employment with the factory lasted for nine fruitful years, and within these years he had produced porcelain works inspired by well-known French Rococo artists such as Francois Boucher. This claim would be proven true by observing his Falconet’s Enfants work.

The Enfants is a series of sculptures that are supposed to accompany the luxurious dining area of the factory. It depicts the illustrious French fine arts through the biscuit tables sculpted with putti around it. And for such a small-scale work, it will definitely require high-level of skill from the sculptor to be able to execute it. No wonder Falconet’s Enfants had been reproduced to cater to the demands of the European market.

Aside from doing sculptural works, Falconet also found the time to create pamphlets. He focused on Art that will serve as a manual for students and professionals. He dedicated a chapter for sculpture, which is now featured on French Encyclopedia. The chapter can also be considered as a criticism more than a manual because Falconet argued that artists of his time had surpassed what the old masters, particularly of the classical times, had achieved.

His publications on art reached up to six volumes in total, which also serves as his greatest scholastic achievement.

Invitation by Catherine the Great

After completing his successful career stint in the factory, Falconet was invited by Catherine the Great of Russia to work for her in September 1766. He then went to St. Petersburg to begin working on the Great Peter I equestrian statue, a masterpiece. This invitation was made happen thru the endorsement of Denis Diderot.

In Russia, while executing the large-scale equestrian statue, Falconet was accompanied by his own team of pupils. He primarily worked with his step-daughter, Mary Ann Collot. The tandem lasted for 12 years, by the time that they have completed the sculpture. In 1778, The Bronze Horseman was then installed at the Decembrist Square of St. Petersburg.

It was a massive success for Falconet and Collot that Catherine the Great was very pleased, and therefore, it is now a considered masterpiece. The sculpture was grandiose for its size, power, and conveyed dignity that can be seen through the horse’s raised front legs and the first Czar’s proud control over it. The characters are supplemented with emotive expressions that effectively affected power and drama.

In 1778, Falconet returned to Paris where he would stayed for the rest of his life. He was appointed Director of the Academie des Beaux Arts. However, this was also the time when the French Revolution broke out so most of his works for public and private patrons had been destroyed. Only a few of his private works have had survived though.

Old Age and Death

In 1783, Falconet suffered from stroke that affected his productivity. He used his remaining time to revise some of his publications and pamphlets. He also took the opportunity to study Latin and Greek languages. Overall, he was able to publish several writings beginning 1768, 1771 until 1782.

Falconet died in 1791 in Paris, aged 75 years old.

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