Restorations and casts : from the Phlegmatic Man to the Bath of Apollo


1. Removing the Bath of Apollo group
Versailles, July 2008
Photo : Claude Rozier

Last [1] July, with relatively little fanfare, the Bath of Apollo group was finally brought inside the Petite Ecurie. A longtime Versailles lover, Claude Rozier, was there and took several photographs of the removal (ill. 1 and 2). We had pointed out the danger (see article on La Tribune de l’Art, in French) to the group, a masterpiece of 17th century French statuary, and the need of sheltering it from the elements, from vandalism and from the Grandes Eaux shows which have increased and now threatened its condition. Funding was made available thanks to the Versailles Foundation, which should be highly commended for its disinterested help as this American foundation does not benefit from any tax deductions.
The group is now in the process of being cast. The operation is being carried out by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux which has acquired a veritable savoir-faire in this technique and produces copies of truly remarkable quality.


2. Transporting the Bath of Apollo group
Photo : Claude Rozier



The Grande Commande of 1674

The RMN is thus the author of the cast for Phlegmatic Man, a sculpture included in the Grande Commande (Great Commission) of 1674 executed by Matthieu Lespagnandelle and which had been brought inside last year, although too late as its surface is extremely deteriorated. The cast was recently installed in the gardens (ill. 3), while the original was placed, temporarily, in the Galerie Basse (lower gallery), below the Hall of Mirrors (ill. 4). Its restoration and cast were made possible thanks to the enlightened patronage of the Léon Grosse company.
Reproductions of this quality, imitating marble, are quite obviously highly preferable to copies produced by a sculptor, as pointed out by Jean-Jacques Aillagon in the interview he granted us recently. This technique is less expensive and more respectful of the original. Furthermore, this procedure is now risk-free for the originals, unlike the techniques of some decades ago [2].


3.After Matthieu Lespagnandelle
(c. 1617-1689)
Phlegmatic Man
Resin and marble
powder - H. 230 cm.
Versailles, Château gardens
Photo : D. Rykner

4. Matthieu Lespagnandelle (c. 1617-1689)
Phlegmatic Man
Marble - H. 230 cm
Versailles, Château
Photo : D. Rykner


5. Pierre Le Gros
Water
Marble - H. 200 cm
Versaille, on temporary deposit
Inside the Petite Ecurie
Photo : D. Rykner

Several other sculptures from the Grande Commande have been brought inside since the beginning of 2008 for which casts will also be made. In the same gallery, there are Air by Etienne Le Hongre and Earth by Benoît Massou. Water by Pierre Le Gros (ill. 5) and Night by Jean Raon are in storage inside the Petite Ecurie, waiting to be restored and copied [3]. Many of the marbles still in the gardens need to be brought inside without delay as their condition is of immediate concern. This is the case, for example for Winter by François Girardon (ill. 6). Still, action is being taken and will be pursued if we are to believe Jean-Jacques Aillagon. We may thus be reasonably optimistic about the preservation of the Versailles statuary. We should also like to direct attention to the sculptures attached to the monument, such as the ones overlooking the chapel. Although some of them are more or less recent copies, there are still many originals which should also be protected.


6. François Girardon (1628-1715)
The Winter
Marble
Versailles, Jardin du chateau
Photo : D. Rykner



The Bath of Apollo

7. Restoration (cleaning) of one of the Nymphs in the Bath of Apollo
Versailles, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner

But let us return to the Bath of Apollo which is currently inside the Petite Ecurie. The sculptures are first cleaned (ill. 7) and restored. Apollo’s nose, as we had already pointed out, had unfortunately been broken and has to be reconstructed (ill. 8). Unlike Michelangelo’s Pietà, there was no old cast to help in this reconstruction. The foot, also broken, was recovered even if it was already a 19th century restoration.


8. François Girardon (1628-1715)
Apollo, detail of the restoration process
Marble
Versaille, on temporary deposit in
The Petite Ecurie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner

9. Gilles Guérin (1611/1612-1678)
Horse from the Bath of Apollo group,
front side
Versaille, on temporary deposit in
The Petite Ecurie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner


The Bath of Apollo group is made up of several marble pieces which fit together much like a puzzle. The sight of the horses split in two is fascinating. Gilles Guérin’s sculptures are hollow inside (ill. 9) whereas Gaspard Marsy’s are solid (ill. 10).

10. Gaspard Marsy (1629-1681) and Balthazar
Marsy (1628-1674)
Horse from the Bath of Apollo group, front side
Versaille, on temporary deposit in
The Petite Ecurie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner

11. The Bath of Apollo being cast
Versaille, on
temporary deposit in
The Petite Ecurie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner


The casts are made of flexible elastomer, thus allowing for up to ten reproductions in resin with marble powder (ill. 11 and 12).


12. The Bath of Apollo being cast
Versaille, on temporary deposit in
The Petite Ecurie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner

13. Gaspard Marsy (1629-1681) and Balthazar
Marsy (1628-1674)
Triton from the Bath of Apollo group, front side
Versaille, on temporary deposit in
The Petite Ecurie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner


Some of the sculptures in the group, before restoration, reveal the damage to the marble, such as the cracks and erosion visible on this Triton [4](ill. 13).

The Rape of Proserpine

14. François Girardon
Base for the Rape of Proserpine group
during restoration
Marble
Versailles, Orangerie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner

As we mentioned above, this sculpture was brought inside in the 1950’s and replaced by a cast, thus helping in its preservation which is quite satisfactory, both for the base (ill. 14) and the group itself (ill. 15). However, it had not been cleaned, an operation which is now in progress at the Orangerie thanks to patronage from Moët-Hennessy. It should then be permanently installed inside the Orangerie, not far from Bernini’s Louis XIV. This equestrian statue [5] had been transformed, we know, by Girardon himself into Marcus Curtius at the king’s request. The Rape of Proserpine, and notably Pluto’s head (ill. 16), is in fact very close in style to that of the Baroque sculptor from Rome. The grandiose architecture of the surroundings form a perfect setting for these large scale sculpted groups.


15. The Rape of Proserpine by
François Girardon
being restored
Versailles, Orangerie, September 2008
Photo : D. Rykner

16. François Girardon (1628-1715)
The Rape of Proserpine, detail
Marble
Versailles, Orangerie
Photo : D. Rykner


We would like to conclude this report with a suggestion : since each cast allows for ten high quality reproductions, why could the Public establishment of Versailles not produce several copies of each of these sculptures, have them numbered and sell them to well-to-do art enthusiasts ? This would be a way of funding the rescue of all of these marbles and might also become a significant source of revenue for the château, thus enabling other restorations and acquisitions. This has been put into practice already by the Musée Rodin which now enjoys a comfortable budget thanks to the sale of these casts from original plasters.


Didier Rykner, dimanche 5 octobre 2008


Notes

[1] This article was made possible thanks to Alexandre Maral, chief curator for sculptures at Versailles, whom Jean-Jacques Aillagon recommended we meet so that he could tell us about the restorations and the museum’s project for the garden statuary.

[2] The Rape of Proserpine by Girardon, replaced by a copy many years ago, shows traces of a faulty casting technique.

[3] The various patrons are : for Air by Le Hongre, Monsieur et Madame Forneri (restoration) and the Bucéphale Finance company (cast) ; for Earth by Massou and Water by Le Gros, the Solétanche-Bachy company (restoration and cast) ; for Night by Raon, the Damman Frères company (restoration) and Madame Denise Maubé (cast).

[4] The sculpture is not broken but is made up of several marble pieces.

[5] After being vandalized in the 1980’s, it was replaced by a cast at one end of the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses.



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