Louis-Ernest Barrias

Alt text: Bronze sculpture of a woman draped in fabric revealing her face and chest
Alt text: Bronze sculpture of a woman draped in fabric revealing her face and chest
Alt text: Bronze sculpture of a woman draped in fabric revealing her face and chest

Louis-Ernest Barrias
French 1841 – 1905
Nature Unveiling Herself before Science, 1899
Bronze: base and figure, dark brown patina; robe, light brown patina
9 1/2 H. x 3 7/8 W. x 8 D. inches.
Signed left base: E. Barrias
Inscribed right base: Susse Fres Edtrs
Stamped rear base: Susse Fres Editeur Paris

Artist Description

Barrias was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau style, which was prominent during the fin-de-siècle in France. The voluptuous female figures used in many of his sculptures are a product of this time and style. Nature and the erotic were also used often in this style of art, which is seen in many of Barrias’ works including Nature Unveiling Herself Before Science. The sculpture presents Nature as a woman wrapped in a cloak that she lifts from her upper body to reveal her face and breasts. The figure’s graceful pose and the fine folds of the drapery reflect the naturalistic patterns typical of the Art Nouveau style. The original sculpture, which is in the Musée d’Orsay, was commissioned for the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.

Louis-Ernest Barrias was born in Paris into a family of artists. His father was a porcelain-painter, and his older brother Félix-Joseph Barrias a well-known painter. Louis-Ernest also started out as a painter, studying under Léon Cogniet, but later took up sculpture with Pierre-Jules Cavelier as his teacher. In 1858 he was admitted to the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where his teacher was François Jouffroy. In 1865 Barrias won the Prix de Rome for study at the French Academy in Rome. Barrias was involved in the decoration of the Paris Opéra and the Hôtel de la Païva in the Champs-Élysées. His work was mostly in marble, in a Romantic realist style indebted to Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.

In 1878 he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour, an officer in 1881, and a commander in 1900. Barrias replaced Dumont at the Institut de France in 1884 then succeeded Cavelier as professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1900-03 he served on the Council for the National Museums. Among his students were Josep Clarà, Charles Despiau, Henri Bouchard, and Victor Ségoffin. His most known piece is “Portrait of the Young Mozart.”

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