- Museum number
- Object: Pygmalion and Galatea
Figure; soft-paste biscuit porcelain; oval base hollow, showing that the lower part was press-moulded; Pygmalion, in a long robe and with a bandeau around his hair and thonged sandals on his feet, kneels on an oval pedestal, his hands clasped in ecstasy at the sight of the awakening Galatea who stands naked before him on a semi-circular plinth, itself resting on an oblong support; a putto, who kneels on the stone from which she is fashioned, kisses her right hand; a winged cupid holding the remains of a bow is behind her at her left; beside the hem of Pygmalion's cloak at the left are his tools; a mallet, chisels and a file; maker's mark.
- Production date
- 1764-1773 (circa)
Height: 36.10 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Dawson 1994
This group, widely acknowledged as one of the finest ever produced at Sèvres, is based on a marble by Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-91) with the addition of an extra cupid at the back. The marble group, which has a rectangular base, was exhibited at the ‘Salon’ of 1763. There are examples in the Louvre and in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, USA; the Louvre group is dated but the date may have been added later.¹ The subject appears in painted form on an undated green-ground vase without a painter's mark at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire.²
Diderot wrote more about this group in his ‘Salon’ of 1763 than about any other item of sculpture he ever discussed, in terms of unparalleled lyricism: “O la chose précieuse que ce petit groupe de Falconet! Voilà le morceau que j'aurais dans mon cabinet, si je me piquais d'avoir un cabinet etc”.
The subject is taken from classical mythology and was treated by Ovid in the ‘Metamorphoses’. Pygmalion, King of Cyprus, fell in love with an ivory figure of a woman which in some versions of the story he is said to have carved himself. At a feast dedicated to Aphrodite he begged the goddess to grant him a woman in the image of the figure. On returning home he discovered that the figure had come to life. He married her, the product of their union being a daughter, Paphos.
The story was represented on the stage in several versions. Those of the Italian Comedy in 1734, 1741, 1760 and 1780 have been recorded by M. d'Espinay de Saint-Luc in an unpublished thesis.³ This author has also traced twelve interpretations given by other theatre companies, including a ballet staged in London in 1734 and the well-known version by J.J. Rousseau given in 1770 at the Hôtel de Ville, Lyon, and at the Théâtre Français in 1775.⁴ Falconet's marble, as we have seen from Diderot's commentary, focuses on the instant when the statue comes to life, and symbolises the relationship between the artist and his creation.
D'Espinay de Saint-Luc has rightly drawn attention to the concluding speech given by Pygmalion in Rousseau's drama: “Oui cher et charmant objet, oui digne chef d'oeuvre de mes mains, de mon coeur et des Dieux . . . C'est toi seule; je t'ai donné tout mon être; je ne veux vivre que par toi.”
The Sèvres version exists in two sizes, of which this example is the smaller. Plaster and clay models are preserved in the Archives de la Manufacture de Sèvres and there is a terracotta in the Musée national de Céramique, Sèvres; the second size was composed of seventeen different parts, the first of thirty-one. In October 1763 Leclere was paid 54 livres “pour remonter la terre” (i.e. for assembling the terracotta model) and 108 livres for having “repare le plâtre”.⁵ His work was carried out before the creation of the moulds for the group. Le Riche and Leclere are recorded as working on the group from November-December 1763 and into 1764. The record of overtime work carried out by the modellers shows that a number of them were involved with this group: Mathias, Chanou ‘l'oncle’, Gomond, Oreste Chanoux, Levaux, Plocque, Mignan, Furet and Choulair. It is probable that the incised ‘B’ stands for Bachelier who was in charge of the sculpture workshop from 1751-7 and 1766-73, a hypothesis put forward by Madame N. Birioukova.⁶
Both a model and a mould are recorded in an inventory dated January 1764 preserved at the factory.
The group was sold when perfect at the high price of 480 livres,⁷ and from the yearly inventories it is clear that between 1765 and 1770 only a maximum of ten were ever in stock. They seem to have been sold singly to the ‘marchands-merciers’ such as Poirier, Daguerre, Dulac, Sayde, notably in February 1773.⁸ A Pygmalion ‘doré’ at 300 livres was in the ‘magasin de vente’ in January 1774 and two 'Pigmalions, Grands et pts' are recorded for sale at 600 livres each on 19 February 1785.⁹ In 1772 Louis-Joseph de Bourbon, prince de Condé, purchased an example at 480 livres, which, however, was listed neither in the inventory made in Paris in 1779, nor in ‘l'inventaire de l'emigre Condé’ made at Chantilly in 1792-3.¹⁰
The last King of Poland, Stanislas-Augustus Poniatowski owned an example of this Sèvres group.¹¹
1. Exhibition, ‘Diderot et l'Art de Boucher à David’, Paris, Hôtel de la Monnaie, 5 October 1984-6 January 1985, no. 131.
2. Eriksen, Svend, ‘Sèvres Porcelain, the James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor’, Fribourg, 1968, no. 73. A painting by F. Lemoyne ‘Pygmalion voyant sa statue animée’ dated 1729, which may have belonged to the ‘fermier-général’ Etienne Bouret, one of the shareholders of the Sèvres factory, was exhibited in 'The Age of Louis XV, French Painting 1710 1774', USA, Toledo Museum of Art, 1975-6, cat. 62. Another by F. Boucher entitled ‘Pygmalion devient amoureux d'une statue qu'il avoit faite, et Vénus la rend animée’, engraved by N. Lemire, was used in 1786 as the subject for a painted scene on a ‘plateau Bouret’ in the Louis XVI service, see Bellaigue, Geoffrey de, ‘Sèvres Porcelain in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen: The Louis XVI Service’, Cambridge, 1986, p. 145, no. 66, fig. 1.
3. 'Contribution à l'Iconologie du XVIII Siècle, Le Biscuit de Sèvres et le Théâtre italien de 1752 à 1781', unpublished thesis for the University of Nancy, 1968.
4. See J.J. Rousseau, ‘Oeuvres Complètes’, 1964, Pléiade edition, Vol. 2, pp. 1229-30.
5. MNS, Archives de Sèvres, F7.
6. Birioukova, Nina, A propos des marques sur les biscuits de Vincennes et de Sèvres, ‘Cahiers’, no. 40, 1968, pp. 257-60.
7. Imperfect groups at 336 or 288 livres are documented in the Sèvres factory records in the inventory of the magasin de vente’ on 1 January 1774.
8. MNS, Archives de Sèvres, I 8.
9. Ibid., I, 8.
10. M. Brunet, Quelques porcclaines de Sevres du prince de Condé, ‘Bulletin de la Société des Amis du Musée de Chantilly’, no. 3, October 1972, p. 4, fig. 3 (illustrates the model).
11. L. Réau, Catalogue des oeuvres d'art français de la collection du roi de Pologne Stanislas-Auguste (extracts only), L'Art français dans les pays du nord et de Test de l'Europe (XVIIIe-XIXe siècles, ‘Archives de l' Art français’, nouvelle periode, Vol. XVII (1931-2), reprinted 1969, p. 248, no. 44, Un groupe de biscuit de Sève de quatre figures représentant ‘Pygmalion et sa statue’, listed as ‘Effets de garde-meubles’.
1) Sèvres, Musée national de Céramique, inv. 15 353, hard-paste, first size. H. 75 cm, incised ‘lo’ near a cupid.
2) Paris, Musée des arts décoratifs, inv. unknown.
3) Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 10.000, acquired 1960, incised with cursive ‘B’, soft-paste, rectangular base on rectangular pedestal with inscription.
4) Germany, Berlin, Schlossmuseum, illus. F. Hofmann, ‘Das Porzellan’, Berlin, 1932, Tafel VI.
5) Russia, St Petersburg, Pavlovsk Palace, inv. 20723, illus, N. Birioukova, A propos des marques sur les biscuits de Vincennes et de Sèvres, ‘Cahiers’, no. 40 (1968) p. 258, illus. p. 259.
6) Russia, St Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, inv. 24161, see Birioukova, Nina, ‘Figurines et Groupes en Porcelaine des Manufactures Françaises du XVIIIe siècle’, Leningrad, 1962, no. 36, fig. 45, hard-paste porcelain, oval pedestal, incised ‘Bn8A’.
7) Russia, Kuskovo, The State Museum of Ceramics, soft-paste, height 37.5 cm, incised ‘F’, inv. 11268.
8) USA, New York, Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, illus. R. Berges, Falconet at Sèvres, ‘Antique Collector’, Vol. 59, no. 4, April 1988, fig. 6.
9) USA, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, illus. Rathbone, Perry T., ‘The Forsyth Wickes Collection’, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, dist. By New York Graphic Society, Greenwich (Conn.), 1968, p. 85 and Munger, Jeffrey et al., ‘The Forsyth Wickes Collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’, Boston (Mass.), 1992, no. 144, hard-paste porcelain.
10) USA, New York, Christie's, 27 April 1984, Lot 252, illus.
11) USA, New York, Christie's, The Elizabeth Parke Firestone Collection, Part I, 21-22 March 1990, Lot 140, incised ‘F’.
12) USA, New York, private collection, square base, incised ‘F’, perhaps the example illus. in P. Hunter-Stiebel, ‘Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour, a love affair with style’, exhibition, New York, Rosenberg & Stiebel Inc., May-June 1990, cat. 26, p. 77, fig. 56.
13) Private collection, location unknown, on oval base with pedestal bearing inscription, illus. Frégnac, Claude (ed.), ‘Les porcelainiers du XVIIIe siècle français’, Paris, 1964, p. 203.
Literature: Honey, William B., ‘French Porcelain of the 18th Century’, London, 1950, pl. 68; q King, William, The Eckstein Bequest of European Ceramics, ‘British Museum Quarterly’, XVI, no. 3, 1951, pp. 80-1; Savage, George, ‘Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century French Porcelain’, London, 1960, pl. 70.
Bibliography: Illus. Bourgeois, Emile and Lechevallier-Chevignard, Georges, ‘Le Biscuit de Sèvres – recuil des modèles de la manufacture de Sèvres au XVIII (18) siècles’, Paris, n.d. (1913), pl. 9, no. 529 and mentioned by C.-E. de Ujfalvy-Bourdon, ‘Les Biscuits de Porcelaine’, Paris, 1893, p. 83 (model said to be by Duru); See exhibition catalogue ‘Diderot et l'Art de Boucher à David’, Paris, Hôtel de la Monnaie, 5 October 1984 - 6 January 1985, no. 131.
- On display (G46/dc17)
- Galatea's left hand is restored and the arrow of the cupid behind her is broken.
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Metamorphoses
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number