Alfred Janniot’s monumental works acclaimed in Nice but disregarded in Paris

1. The monument to the fallen during
the Grande Guerre, by
Alfred Janniot, on the
road running along
the coast, Nice

20/09/07 — Exhibition and Heritage, Nice and Paris — Anyone living in Nice is familiar with the work of the sculptor Alfred Auguste Janniot (1889-1969). The Soleil fountain decorated with bronze groups, and recently reinstalled in Place Masséna, is a popular meeting point. The monument to the fallen during the Grande Guerre, covered in bas-reliefs, and located on the road running along the coast (ill. 1) is considered to be one of the most beautiful in France. Paris also has its share of masterpieces : the immense “tapestry in stone” on the Palais des Colonies from 1931, the reliefs on the back esplanade of the Palais de Tokyo from 1937 are both by this master. And yet few of the passers-by know who he was. The exhibition which is currently showing at the Musée des beaux-arts Jules Chéret (ill. 2) will help to put a face and a name on these emblematic works. It is the first official retrospective devoted to the artist and assembles a large number of art pieces belonging mostly to private collectors and to the gallery owner Michel Giraud.

2. Exhibition Alfred Janniot
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice
Photo : C. Maingon

A graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Prix de Rome in 1919, Alfred-Auguste Janniot was a lover of the classical tradition and the Renaissance. His plastic expression abandoned naturalism in favour of architectural sculpture, characterized by an archaising and synthetic modelé, technically perfected, and greatly indebted to Antoine Bourdelle. Some of the pieces in the exhibition reveal the talent of a great craftsman in Art Deco statuary, notably the studies for heads in L’Hommage à Jean Goujon, a group that Janniot displayed in front of the Hôtel du collectionneur by J. E. Ruhlmann at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in 1925. Despite a rather conventional presentation in the beautiful galleries of the Musée Chéret, the show is noteworthy in that it highlights Janniot’s importance in the history of figurative sculpture during the 30’s. This exhibition is significant coming after the publication of the first monographic study in 2000 by the Association de défense of his work directed by his beneficiary.

3. Palais de Tokyo (Paris), stair, esplanade
Photo : D. Rykner (September 19, 2007)

4. Palais de Tokyo, esplanade
basin and relief by
Alfred Janniot
Photo : D. Rykner (September 19, 2007)

But there is still much that needs to be done. The lack of care in preserving the façade of the Musée des Colonies and especially the pitiful state of disrepair of the Palais de Tokyo are all too blatant reminders (ill. 3 and 4). Endangered by graffiti, the hauts-reliefs are extremely deteriorated as is the rest of this frequently visited tourist site. These photographs illustrate the intolerable disregard for the sculptures which decorate the esplanade, particularly those by Drivier (ill. 5). The City of Paris, owner of the Musée d’Art Moderne located inside the building, and the state, owner of the land, refuse to assume the clean-up of the site, each claiming the other is responsible for the expenses. Their bickering has been going back and forth for several years and no decision has yet been taken to save this landmark.

5. Léon-Ernest Drivier (1878-1951)
Paris, Palais de Tokyo, esplanade
Photo : D. Rykner (September 19, 2007)

There is a dismaying difference in the way Janniot is acclaimed in Nice but disregarded in the French capital. With the inauguration of the Cité de l’Immigration at the Porte Dorée inside the former Musée des colonies taking place soon, something should finally be done to preserve Alfred Janniot’s works.

Exhibition : Alfred Janniot, sculpteur des années 30, Musée des Beaux-Arts-Jules Chéret, Nice, through december 9, 2007.

Website :

Bibliography : Edwige Anne Demeurisse (ed.), Alfred Auguste Janniot , Somogy éditions d’art, 2000, 176 p. ISBN : 2-85056-654-3. Alfred Janniot, à la gloire de Nice, ed. Michel Giraud, 2007

Version française

Claire Maingon, jeudi 20 septembre 2007

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