Édouard Dantan: A Restoration
Dantan was especially drawn to painting the interiors of the artist's studio. His father, Antoine-Laurent Dantan, was a well-known and acclaimed sculptor and would have involved him in his studio practice and, consequently, fostered an ambition for Edouard to develop his own. He would go on to document the professional artistic landscape of the late nineteenth century and is most celebrated for his paintings of working studios and exhibition spaces. His submissions to the Paris Salon in 1880 (L'Atelier de mon père), 1887 (Un moulage sur nature) and in 1891 (Une restauration, the present lot) depicted the interiors of an artist's studio. Of these, Une restauration shows Dantan at his very best through the virtuosity of paint handling, attention to detail, complexity of compositional arrangement and relative monumentality. It would later be exhibited at Chicago's Columbian World's Exposition in 1893.
There is a longstanding tradition of presenting the artist's studio as either allegory or anecdote. Masterpieces like Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas (1656), which later influenced Gustave Courbet's The Artist's Studio (1855), set important precedents that Dantan, and innumerable other artists, would draw from. The Salon jury would have been especially receptive to this subject, and because his 1880 submission was well-received and much talked about, Dantan would have been prompted to submit more of the same genre.
Immediately evident in this painting is the tremendous attention to detail, as Dantan is careful to convey a vision of the artists' studio while he is in the act of creation. Marble is prized for its malleability and skin-like translucency but remains an extremely unforgiving medium given that it is a subtractive process. One foul blow of the mallet or careless placement of the chisel could spell ruin for a masterpiece.
The sculpture is likely based on Antoine Houdon's masterpiece, La frileuse (1787), which is an allegory for winter and translates to a woman who is susceptible to the cold. As in many of his works, Dantan maintains a sense of humor and play of irony. Here, the artist's fully clothed sculpture is an exaggeration of Houdon's half naked Frileuse, and while the bare branches seen through the window indicate winter, his bared model shows no susceptibility to the cold.
In the present work, Dantan's artist is chiseling at the drapery of his subject which is carefully propped on a series of wood blocks so that his area of occupation is at eye level and close to his body. Chisels and spatulas are carefully hung and ordered under shelves that house studies and maquettes, as well as incomplete works and broken fragments. Friezes hang on the walls and earthenware vessels and woven baskets sit on the floor. Interestingly, and a sign of Dantan's ambition, there are two light sources implied in the artist's bright studio. The window shown diffuses light that illuminates the model from behind, and the drapery that she is enveloped in seems to glow. The surfaces of each object are given an extreme amount of consideration, and the result is an artistic tour de force. [Sotheby’s]