La Misère (Primary Title)
Jules Desbois, French, 1851-1935 (Artist)
Desbois was deeply influenced by the expressive, gestural approach to sculpting championed by Rodin. He was also concerned with balancing the detailed nuances of realistic representation against the Symbolist ideal of portraying subjective impressions.
Maria Caira, the eighty-two-year-old Italian model for La Misère, seemingly struck the artist as an unrelenting vision of the simultaneous frailty and resilience of human existence. She had arrived in Paris destitute before reuniting with her estranged son. The effects of age and poverty upon her emaciated features must have first had a decisive impact on her son, since he soon began exploiting her aged physique for financial gain, forcing her to pose nude for several Parisian artists. Rendering her dramatically suggestive appearance into sculpture, Desbois created an emblem of the era’s decadent tendencies, capturing the twilight aspect of her beauty as it fades and disappears.
A plaster cast of La Misère captivated critics at the Salon of 1894, and the French State commissioned a large-scale version carved in oak. This model is one of the few preparatory works for the final sculpture (Museum of Fine Arts, Nancy).
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