Barberis sculpture takes pride of place in Decorative Arts Gallery

DELICATE, LUMINOUS AND SENSUAL: French sculptor An Art deco sculptor Charles Barberis’s 1936 work Young Lady with Gazelle stands inside a glass case at the entrance of the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery.
Picture by Dudley Meadows

A RARE Art Deco sculpture acquired for the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery might remain in pride of place as a permanent display and symbol of the gallery.

Gisborne arts patron and collector Professor Jack Richards bought French sculptor Charles Barberis’s 1936 work Young Lady with Gazelle from a Zurich gallery that specialises in Art Deco. Sculpted from stone and housed in a specially made display case, the work is installed at the entrance of the decorative arts gallery.

Lithe, exotic stylised animals such as the panther, greyhound, deer, oryx, antelope and gazelle regularly feature in Art Deco sculpture.

The gazelle in Barberis’s sculpture looks up at the young woman as she pushes up her hair and washes herself with the sponge she holds in the other hand.

“It’s a classic Art Deco piece and a fairly unusual work,” says Richards.

“I thought there must be nothing like it in New Zealand. It’s not easy to find pieces of that kind.

“I might keep it there permanently as an icon for the gallery.”

The female figure is likely to have been based on 4th century BC Greek sculptor Praxiteles’ sculpture Aphrodite of Cnidus. Praxiteles used a special technique for polishing his marble sculpture, which gave it a life-like appearance, says the online Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

“His style was seen as delicate, luminous and sensual.”

Barberis has invested the same qualities in Young Lady with Gazelle.

The French sculptor trained in Neoclassicism, a movement that was born in Rome in the mid-18th century and spread across Europe. Neoclassical artists drew heavily on the classical art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome.

Something beyond nature

Influential German art historian, and author of the 1750 treatise Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, found in Greek art, “not only nature at its most beautiful but also something beyond nature”.

He believed art should aim at “noble simplicity and calm grandeur”.

Not only did Barberis bring the neoclassical sensibility to his Art Deco works, he lived during an era in which colonialism was celebrated in France. He was among sculptors who created the monumental relief on the facade of the Museum of the Colonies that was designed by Albert Laprade for the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition.

Laprade drew architectural inspiration from the far reaches of empire, ranging from Morocco to Indochina, writes modern history professor Martin Evans.

“The exterior was decorated with an intricate relief sculptured by Alfred Janniot (with the help of Charles Barberis and Gabriel Forestier), in which representations of exotic animals are combined with depictions of muscular ‘natives’ happily fishing and harvesting. The result was a seductive vision of empire, complemented inside by a series of sumptuous frescoes extolling the French civilising mission.”

Born in the late 19th century to a wealthy family, Barberis did not need to sell his work so his sculpture is rare in the marketplace. Other works by Barberis include Ramatou the Fountain (1928), Combat (1929), Child in Cap (1932) and Madagascar’s World War 1 memorial Monument aux Morts. On top of a fortress-like tower, an Art Deco-styled winged golden angel in a long, flowing tunic holds aloft a golden wreath.

A RARE Art Deco sculpture acquired for the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery might remain in pride of place as a permanent display and symbol of the gallery.

Gisborne arts patron and collector Professor Jack Richards bought French sculptor Charles Barberis’s 1936 work Young Lady with Gazelle from a Zurich gallery that specialises in Art Deco. Sculpted from stone and housed in a specially made display case, the work is installed at the entrance of the decorative arts gallery.

Lithe, exotic stylised animals such as the panther, greyhound, deer, oryx, antelope and gazelle regularly feature in Art Deco sculpture.

The gazelle in Barberis’s sculpture looks up at the young woman as she pushes up her hair and washes herself with the sponge she holds in the other hand.

“It’s a classic Art Deco piece and a fairly unusual work,” says Richards.

“I thought there must be nothing like it in New Zealand. It’s not easy to find pieces of that kind.

“I might keep it there permanently as an icon for the gallery.”

The female figure is likely to have been based on 4th century BC Greek sculptor Praxiteles’ sculpture Aphrodite of Cnidus. Praxiteles used a special technique for polishing his marble sculpture, which gave it a life-like appearance, says the online Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

“His style was seen as delicate, luminous and sensual.”

Barberis has invested the same qualities in Young Lady with Gazelle.

The French sculptor trained in Neoclassicism, a movement that was born in Rome in the mid-18th century and spread across Europe. Neoclassical artists drew heavily on the classical art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome.

Something beyond nature

Influential German art historian, and author of the 1750 treatise Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, found in Greek art, “not only nature at its most beautiful but also something beyond nature”.

He believed art should aim at “noble simplicity and calm grandeur”.

Not only did Barberis bring the neoclassical sensibility to his Art Deco works, he lived during an era in which colonialism was celebrated in France. He was among sculptors who created the monumental relief on the facade of the Museum of the Colonies that was designed by Albert Laprade for the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition.

Laprade drew architectural inspiration from the far reaches of empire, ranging from Morocco to Indochina, writes modern history professor Martin Evans.

“The exterior was decorated with an intricate relief sculptured by Alfred Janniot (with the help of Charles Barberis and Gabriel Forestier), in which representations of exotic animals are combined with depictions of muscular ‘natives’ happily fishing and harvesting. The result was a seductive vision of empire, complemented inside by a series of sumptuous frescoes extolling the French civilising mission.”

Born in the late 19th century to a wealthy family, Barberis did not need to sell his work so his sculpture is rare in the marketplace. Other works by Barberis include Ramatou the Fountain (1928), Combat (1929), Child in Cap (1932) and Madagascar’s World War 1 memorial Monument aux Morts. On top of a fortress-like tower, an Art Deco-styled winged golden angel in a long, flowing tunic holds aloft a golden wreath.

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