Glazed ceramic sculpture
44 x 32 x 21 cm
In this glazed ceramic, Jean Mayodon takes inspiration from one of Auguste Rodin's most emblematic sculptures, Iris Messenger of the Gods, of which Jean Mayodon owned a foundery plaster, now in the Pinault Collection.
1. Jean Mayodon, one of the greatest ceramists of the 20th century
Today, Jean Mayodon is considered to be one of the greatest ceramists of his time. Originally from Sèvres, he lived and worked in his studio there throughout his life. Before the 1914 war his works were inspired by Hindu and Persian arts as well as by the dancer Isadora Duncan. He specialised in decorative earthenware, often in large pieces made using coloured oxides, covered with a network of gold giving them a valuable appearance, which he then decorated with heroes and gods inspired by Antiquity.
From 1934 to 1939, he was appointed artistic advisor to the Manufacture de Sèvres, then became its Artistic Director from 1941-1942, creating more than eighty vase shapes during this short period.
Jean Mayodon was a close friend of Eugène Rudier (1875-1952), Rodin's founder and executor. It was undoubtedly through his contact with Rudier that the ceramist's desire to create ceramic sculptures based on Rodin's work was born. After the Second World War, he produced four of them: Hanako, The American Athlete, The Crouching Woman and Iris. These sculptures are very rare and always different. Those that have come down to us generally come from Jean Mayodon's descendants or from people close to the ceramist.
Jean Mayodon's sculptures are usually covered with a rich glaze that evokes bronze. While some sculptures are gilded or covered with a brown glaze, in this particular work, Mayodon creates the appearance of oxidised bronze through a thick, dark green glaze tending towards black, where a few touches of gold stand out.
2. Iris Messenger of the Gods, an enigmatic work
This headless character, who is also missing her left arm, appears to have been inspired by a cancan dancer who served as a model for the pose. Rodin depicted her without a head to emphasize that she is entirely absorbed in her movement, unaware of the gaze being cast upon her. To create this provocative and sensual work, legend says that he laid his model on her back with her legs wide apart in a posture reminiscent of The Origin of the World by Courbet (1819-1877). The cast was also presented on its back in his studio.
In Greek mythology, Iris is the link between the world of men and the world of the Gods, serving mainly Hera (Juno), in the same way Hermes (or Mercury) is the messenger of Zeus (Jupiter). She is usually depicted as a young girl with shining multi-coloured wings, which explains the etymology of the word 'iridescent'.
The sculpture was first created around 1890-1891. It was then reworked (and given a pair of wings) to crown the Monument to Victor Hugo in 1897. Enlarged in 1894 and placed vertically, it was cast by Alexis Rudier before being photographed in front of Les Portes de l'Enfer in 1896-1898.
The cast in the Pinault Collection (size 86 x 76 x 63 cm) is a foundery plaster cast produced posthumously, around the time of the Second World War. It would have been obtained from a mould, a technique used for making plaster casts from the artist's clay modelling. It is interesting to note that this plaster cast was given to Jean Mayodon by Eugène Rudier, so it is likely that the ceramist had this plaster in front of him when he modelled his Iris.
This sculpture’s pose would appear to show a great deal of weight applied to the knee of the bent leg as well as on the foot held by the outstretched arm. It is also quite likely that this position, much closer to that of a dancer exercising, was that of the model. However, this is not the position that was chosen for this sculpture by its previous owner as can be seen by the wear visible on the enamel above the right buttock, and at the level of the shoulder blades.
Main bibliographic reference:
(collective) - Slip of the tongue - catalogue of the exhibition held in Venice at the Punta della Dogana from 12 April to 31 December 2015
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