An extremely fine pair of Louis XV gilt bronze mounted Sèvres soft-paste biscuit porcelain figurines after models by Etienne-Maurice Falconet with one portraying La Baigneuse or La Nymphe qui descend au Bain and the other La Baigneuse aux Roseaux, formerly known as Baigneuse Nouvelle, the latter marked with the letter 'F'. La Baigneuse showing a young girl with her hair worn up in the Antique manner, just before she bathes, standing tentatively with her left foot forward to test the temperature of the water, looking downward with drapery around her loins. La Baigneuse aux Roseaux showing the same female beauty after she has taken her bath enveloped in a towel or robe and standing beside reeds. Both figures on a circular rock upon a stepped circular gilt bronze base with a beaded border above friezes enclosing rose heads and floral sprays
Paris, La Baigneuse date circa 1758-66; La Baigneuse aux Roseauxdate circa 1762-66
Height: 41 cm and 40 cm; diameter of the bases: 15 cm.
These beautiful Sèvres biscuit statuettes are derived from models by the celebrated eighteenth century sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-91). The first, known as La Baigneuse, was initially carved as a life-size marble statue. It was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1757, coinciding with the year that Falconet was appointed supervisor of the biscuit workshop at the Sèvres Royal Porcelain Manufactory. Falconet then produced a model for a much smaller statuette, known as La Baigneuse or La Nymphe qui descend au Bain which was first produced in biscuit porcelain at Sèvres in 1758. Its graceful lines and overall composition were inspired by a painting of 1725 by François Lemoyne and was well known through its many engravings. La Baigneuse proved so popular that it was copied by Falconet himself, of which a marble version owned by Louis XV's mistress Madame du Barry, is now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. La Baigneuse was also copiedby other sculptors such as Jean-Pierre Antoine Tassaert, a Paris-trained Flemish artist who became sculptor to the king of Prussia in 1774. Many casts were made and from 1758 replicas such as this example were produced at Sèvres in biscuit porcelain.
Following on from its success, Falconet then produced a pendant model for Sèvres, which first appeared in the factory records in 1762. It was initially known as Baigneuse Nouvelle (New Bather) or Pendant de la Baigneuse but was later known as La Baigneuse aux Roseaux (Bather with Reeds). Here the young bather is shown drying herself after emerging from the water. The reeds beside her indicate the proximity of the water and at the same time act as a support to the nimble figure.At one time this latter figure was incorrectly described to have been after the sculpture Baigneuse à l'éponge of 1774 by Simon-Louis Boizot (1743-1809). Such a confusion is understandable since Boizot's nymph, who holds a sponge, is shown in a similar pose.
La Baigneuse can be dated between 1758 and 1766, while its pendant, which is incised with the letter 'F' can be dated between 1762 and 1766, when Falconet left Paris for Russia.Unglazed or biscuit porcelain figurines were first produced at Vincennes in 1752 and continued to be produced when the factory moved to a new building at Sèvres in 1756. Unlike Meissen, the factory did not have much success when making glazed figurines as the glaze pooled in the crevices of the soft-paste models. As a result, the factory began producing unglazed figures which not only resembled carved marble but could be mass-produced in moulds and were therefore an ideal product.
Falconet, who came from a poor family, was originally apprenticed to a carpenter. In his leisure time he modelled clay figures, which attracted the attention of the sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (1710-74), who made him his pupil. Making rapid progress he was accepted into the Académie in 1744 and the following year made his debut with Milon de Crotone. Working in a restrained rococo style that also reflected classical elements, Falconet showed a preference for an intimate scale, gaining acclaim for his graceful female nudes somewhat akin to a type portrayed by the leading rococo painter François Boucher (1703-70). His supreme talents made him a favourite of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, for whom he modelled among others his seated Cupid, L'Amour Menaçant (Musée du Louvre). This was one of many to be reproduced in biscuit porcelain at the newly founded Sèvres Factory, where from 1757 up until 1766, he provided models for biscuit figures and supervised the biscuit workshop. Falconet himself only visited the manufactory once a week in order to direct a team of sculptors producing terracotta models, which in turn were used to create plaster moulds. Many of Falconet's early models were inspired by the work of Boucher. Boucher had supplied the porcelain factory with drawings since 1748 and was probably known personally to Falconet as both of them had benefitted from the patronage of Madame de Pompadour and worked for her at the Château de Bellevue. Many of Falconet's models for Sèvres were reduced versions of his own Salon exhibits of which his Pygmalion et Galathée (Musée du Louvre) was singled out by the critic Denis Diderot while La Baigneuse was a favourite of Madame du Barry.
In 1766, on Diderot's recommendation, Falconet was invited by Catherine the Great to Saint Petersburg where he was to execute a colossal equestrian bronze statue of Peter the Great. Considered his masterpiece this heroic bronze was very different from previous pieces, in which the huge horse, with its forelegs raised, derived from a type introduced by Bernini. During his years in Saint Petersburg, 1766-78 Falconet devoted much of his enforced leisure time (due to local difficulties) to writing. In 1783, after his return to Paris, he suffered a stroke and thereafter ceased sculpting but continued to write. In addition to work for Sèvres, Falconet provided models for elaborate silver centrepieces and salts; his designs also inspired a number of clock cases, for instance one attributed to him representing Les Trois Grâces (Musée du Louvre). His only other large-scale commission executed before going to Russia was a series of eight statues for the church of St. Roch, of which all but one were destroyed during the Revolution.