Jean-Baptiste Pigalle

Dates1714 - 1785
BornParis, France
DiedParis, France

Among the sculptors of France in the 1700s, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle achieved unprecedented honors and wealth. Pigalle's beginnings, however, were humble. Like many French artists, Pigalle traveled to Rome. But the young sculptor came from a family of artisans so he paid his own way there. After studying in Rome for five years, Pigalle returned to France in 1740 where he conceived the model for his most well known sculpture, a seated statue of Mercury. This graceful and animated rendering was an immediate success. Pigalle was accepted into the Académie Royale and soon began receiving commissions from Louis XV and his entourage.

By the 1750s, Pigalle was able to devote himself almost exclusively to official commissions and produced a number of large-scale, public monuments. Perhaps his most important patron was the king's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, for whom he executed several projects including garden statues and portraits. Pigalle's last major work, a life-size marble sculpture of the philosopher Voltaire, summarized the overriding concerns of his career--truth of form, expression, and gesture. In the 1700s, contemporary men of letters were typically depicted in antique attire, but Pigalle depicted a naked, infirm, and all too human Voltaire. The sculpture exemplified Pigalle's commitment to naturalism but, failing to meet public expectations, was almost universally criticized.

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