Le Silence by Auguste Préault for the Dallas Museum of Art

Auguste Préault (1809-1879)
Le Silence, 1842-1843
Patinated plaster -Diameter without frame : 40 cm,
Diameter with frame : 76 cm
Dallas, Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie Patrice Bellanger

5/3/14 - Acquisition - Dallas, Museum of Art - "The horror of the fatal enigma, the seal closing the mouth at the moment we learn the word, all of this was captured once in a sublime work which I discovered in an enclosed part of the Père Lachaise, at the Jewish cemetery." This is the way Michelet, in 1846, described the marble medalion executed by Auguste Préault for the grave of Jacob Roblès in 1842, the first produced by the sculptor on his own and which was to become his most famous work.
While most funerary sculptures at that time represented the dead person, the artist chose to show Death itself, or an allegory of Death using the symbolism found on Baroque graves but with a very different sense of aesthetics, iconography and means. The image is particularly striking : a veiled face shows a finger lifted to the mouth, asking for silence. The innovation of this allegorical figure strongly influenced the artist’s contemporaries, as well as other sculptors who set to also producing funerary figures with a finger placed over the mouth, as pointed out by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain in her catalogue for the Préault retrospective in 1997.
At least three bronze versions were executed, one of which was presented at the Salon of 1849 with the title Masque funéraire [1]. Antoinette Le Normand-Romain explains that the title we know today, Le Silence, was only attributed in 1867 or 1868.

The artist also produced about ten replicas in plaster, one held at the Louvre. The Dallas Art Museum purchased one of these versions, in patinated plaster with an oak frame, from the Patrick Bellanger gallery the day before the dealer died, making this representation of Death all the more meaningful.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 5 mars 2014


[1] One resides at the Musée d’Auxerre, another one can be found in Bucarest at the Museu nacional de Arta al Romaniei. The whereabouts of the one exhibited at the Salon of 1849, with a green patina, are unknown.

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