Montauban 1861-1929 Le Vésinet
Le Sagittaire, 1920
Signed and inscribed, upper right, A L’AMI/ARNAULT/EN AFFECTION/ANT/ BOURDELLE/artist’s monogram/Greek inscription; inscribed, upper left, LE SAGITTAIRE; inscribed and dated, lower left, TRÔO/4 D’OCTOBRE/1920
Pen and black ink heightened with red wash
7 ⅞ x 10 ¼ inches
200 x 260 mm
Alexandre Auguste Arnault, Paris and Trôo
Private collection, France
Jacques Malatier, Paris
Bourdelle depicted a centaur in his work between 1910 and 1926. In his Le Centaure mourant of 1914, destined for the atrium of the Théâtre des Elysées, the creature half human, half horse, nourished by what he hunts, is embodied in Chiron, Apollo's initiator to music. As Bourdelle's wife said, “he wanted his centaur to be more spiritual and less beast,” conforming to the general depiction of the centaur by the previous generation of Symbolists.¹ In our drawing, Bourdelle returns to and elaborates on this theme. In the sculptue of 1914, the Centaur’s head is leaning on his shoulder, his arm embracing the lyre posed on his back. In our drawing, the centaur is personified by the zodiac sign Sagittarius, but this time as the hunter, returning on his hind quarters, his bow and arrow stretched to the limit.
Bourdelle befriended the journalist and politician Auguste Alexandre Arnault, to whom our drawing is dedicated, sometime around 1910. There is an extensive correspondence between the two.² Although we don't know much about Monsieur Arnault, other than that he was a journalist and politician, we do know that he was friendly enough with Rodin for the sculptor to have offered him a version of his Sister and Brother bronze in 1903.³
Around 1920, Monsieur Mathieu, the mayor of Trôo, a village in the Loire Valley, suggested Arnault contact his friend Bourdelle to design a military memorial to the men from the village who had fallen in combat during WWI. We know Bourdelle remained in Trôo most of October 1920 and even drew a portrait of Arnault meant as a study for a marble bust never conceived.⁴ Our drawing, surrounded by a Greek key motif and inspired by ancient red-figure Greek pottery as well as the neoclassical movement in art and music of the period, is dated October 4th. There is another cursory study in the Musée Bourdelle dated nearly a week later.⁵ That Bourdelle had worked on the subject of Sagittarius in other sketches could only lead one to think he wanted to incorporate the subject in his military memorial. This idea must have been dismissed by the village elders. Begun in August 1922, the memorial was completed in the Spring of 1923 and inaugurated the following July. A sober cube of stone from the region is dressed with two low relief inscriptions rendering homage to the soldiers.
cf. Cléopatre Bourdelle, Ma vie avec Antoine Bourdelle, Paris, 2005, p. 127
cf. Musée Bourdelle
A thank you note from Arnault to Rodin in the Musée Rodin remarks on the scultpor's "affecteuse et noble pensée." The museum conserves a correspondene of 16 letters between the two from 1903-1910.
cf. Paris, Musée du Petit-Palais, inv. PPD1374, pencil, 49 x 41,2 cm. and inscribed "A MON AMI/AUGUSTE ARNAULT/CET ESSAI DE MARBRE/A LA POINTE DE PLOMB ANTOINE/BOURDELLE/TROO 26 OCTOBRE/1920
Musée Bourdelle, Paris, inv. MBD2991 (17,6 x 25,5 cm.) pen, ink, wash and gouache on tracing paper, dated October 10, 1920.