Antoine Bourdelle (1861–1929) was a French sculptor who lived and worked in this house and atelier in the Montparnasse district of Paris.
Like the atelier of his friend and teacher Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) — and like the atelier of his younger colleague Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) — Bourdelle’s atelier has been preserved (against all odds) and is now a museum where numerous works of his are on display.
Bourdelle’s widow and his daughter worked for many years to preserve his house and atelier, with the assistance of a large donation by Gabriel Cognacq, the nephew of Ernest Cognacq, founder of the now defunct Samaritaine department store and the Cognacq-Jay Museum.
The Bourdelle Museum was opened in 1949, twenty years after the sculptor’s death, and has been enlarged twice since then. The museum includes three gardens, in addition to the atelier and the indoor exhibition spaces.
Like the Zadkine and Cognacq-Jay museums, the Bourdelle museum belongs to the city of Paris, so there is no admission charge except during temporary exhibitions.
Although Bourdelle’s atelier has been preserved, the neighborhood around it has changed dramatically since his time. The Montparnasse Tower now dominates this part of Paris, and there are numerous other modern buildings in the area, including a particularly ugly one that is visible between the tower and Bourdelle’s horse in my photo.
Some of the bas-reliefs at the Bourdelle Museum looked familiar to me, and a glance at the labels explained why. They were ones he had made between 1910 and 1913 for the façade of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, so I had seen them there without knowing who the artist was. The bas-reliefs at the top of this photo were cast in bronze and were intended for the theater, but in the end he executed the same designs in stone. The stone versions are the ones that can be seen on the theater façade at 15 Avenue Montaigne.
This rendering of the “Muses running towards Apollo” is the bronze version at the museum.
On the left is a plaster cast of La Danse, on display in the Great Hall of the museum. Bourdelle made numerous versions of La Danse, which shows two of the leading ballet dancers of his time, Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky. Bourdelle had first seen Isadora Duncan when she was dancing the rôle of Gluck’s Iphigénie at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1909.
On the right is a plaster cast of La Comédie, also in the Great Hall of the museum. It shows two young actresses cheerfully trading masks. The fully-dressed actress on the right is supposed to represent modern theater, while the half-naked one on the left represents ancient theater.
After leaving the Bourdelle Museum I rode over (on a Vélib’ bike) to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, since by coincidence I had a ticket for Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni on that same evening.
This is the stone version of Bourdelle’s bas-relief La Musique, on the façade of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The inspiration for this one is said to have been a performance of Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun” at the Théâtre du Châtelet in May 1912, with Vaslav Nijinsky dancing the rôle of the faun.
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2017.
The Bourdelle Museum is at 18 Rue Antoine Bourdelle, 75015 Paris.
Location on the Vélib‘ map.