9915

AN EXTREMELY RARE PAIR OF WAX SCULPTURES OF GENTLEMEN DRESSED IN THEIR ORIGINAL APPAREL

Probably French. Circa 1785.

Measurements

Figure in red: Height: 26” (66 cm)
Width 9”(23 cm).
Figure in ocher: Height: 28” (71 cm)
Width 10” (25 cm).

Research
Of wax, silk, silver thread, leather and oak. One gentleman dressed in an ocher colored long coat with floral embroidered waistcoat, beige culottes with beige stockings, and leather shoes. The second figure in the act of oration is dressed in a red long coat with silver embroidered trimming and buttons with culottes, beige stockings and leather shoes, and holding a later paper scroll. Restoration to nose of red figure and to the fingers and leather shoes of both. Old repairs to bodies, textiles all original and carefully conserved. Oak stands original.

The art of wax modeling can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when it was used for effigies, death masks and portrait miniatures. In Renaissance Italy, the cities of Florence, Venice and Naples were among the first centers to recognize the possibilities of using wax to imitate human flesh, arguably one of the earliest instances of hyper-realism in art. Some of these studies were portrayed with terrifying naturalism such as a Cadaver in Decomposition by the Neapolitan Gaetano Guilio Zummo, circa 1695. In later centuries, busts or life-size portraits were created from this pliable material, as were anatomical models, a practice known as moulage.

In the late eighteenth century in France realistic wax modeling would take on an entirely new purpose. The commercial possibilities of the medium were first realized by a physician, Philippe Curtius (1737-1794). Working in his hometown of Berne in Switzerland, he had built up considerable experience and skill creating anatomical models of the kind mentioned above. His models were so remarkable that the Prince de Conti, on seeing the small museum Curtius had established, persuaded him to travel to Paris.1 Conti was an enlightened member of the French Royal Family, who maintained a lively salon of contemporary artists and philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He also established a lodging house for artists on the Rue St-Honoré, where Curtius lived during his formative years in Paris.2 One of Curtius’ few surviving confirmed creations is a self-portrait, now at the Musée Carnavalet (figure 1).

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.