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ONYX MARBLE ART

Sumptuous pair of SCULPTURES SYMBOLISING “Spring” and “Summer”, made of patinated bronze, gold and silver; draped MARBLE-Onyx CASHMERE.

Beautifully matched, Creation of the nineteenth century around 1865.

   To embody these two seasons, Charles Cordier delivers as usual the naturalistic portraits of two women, smiling with a slightly lowered gaze. Spring is represented with the hair gathered in a bun, the forehead encircled with a silver garland of flowers and roses falling on his shoulder. Summer brings an elegant mat embellished with a long gold ribbon mixed with ears of wheat and wildflowers.

These two allegorical busts are treated in the background with a brown patina that highlights the heightened gold and silver on the crowns, creating subtle effects of duotone very specific to his art. The faces are then enhanced with a brown patina giving them this particular hue. The deep incision and the marked outline of the eyes, and the mouth, breathe life and solar radiation into these unique pieces. Enclosed in an elegant drape of amber Onyx, known as cashmere, the brown flesh seems animated, the spectator is seized by the sumptuousness of the materials and the finesse of the sculpture. The set is based on a patinated bronze pedestal and gilded.  

Large bust gilt bronze and silver with Onyx-cashmere draperies

Spring: Large bust gilt bronze and silver with Onyx-cashmere draperies.

onyx marble

Summer: Large bust in gilded and silvered bronze with Onyx-cashmere draperies. Summer: 91, 5 cm

onyx marble

Spring: 90 cm

onyx marble

Noble and high quality material used here, the marble-onyx cashmere draping these exceptional sculptures.

Historical facts

Recognized and used since antiquity, the Onyx was rediscovered around 1843 by Delmonte, a Carrara marble maker, during archaeological excavations. It will then be truly exploited by Pallu at the end of the 1850s. Cordier will visit this career of Onyx during one of his ethnographic missions in 1856, it is a revelation. This material with veins upset and fractal transparency allows him to go after a process initiated in 1853 when he sends the show a polychrome sculpture, which radically contrast with the whiteness of other marbles. He thus proposes at the Salon of 1857 sculptures combining bronze and onyx by presenting natives of Algiers draped with this “autochthonous” stone and his famous Negro of Sudan.

Founded in 1858 by Eugène Cornu with the bronzier G. Viot et Cie, the Compagnie des Marbres and Onyx of Algeria collaborate and provided of course Charles Cordier but also Carrier-Belleuse for many decorative pieces, such as a monumental bronze trim and onyx, accompanied by flamboyant female figures exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1867. The Compagnie des Marbres and Onyx of Algeria is celebrated and rewarded many times for its production of luxury items, the pinnacle going back to the immense bathtub of the Hotel La Païva. Artist Biography: Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier (1827-1905), entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1846 and left quickly to follow the teachings of the famous sculptor François Rude (1784-1855).

In 1847, Charles Cordier meets an African model, former Sudanese slave. Impressed by its beauty, the portrait of this man, exhibited at the Salon of 1848 will be his first success.

Cordier himself describes his approach: “My genre had the news of a new subject, the revolt against slavery and anthropology …, I renovated the value of sculpture and I created the study of races, enlarging the circle of beauty”.

This innovative artistic reflection pushes him to realize two years later the African Venus. Acquired at the London World’s Fair in 1851, by Queen Victoria The bust of Sudanese and the African Venus are the defining works of Cordier’s career.

The French state, which is seeking to have an ethnographic gallery presenting the different human types, will order a replica for the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

He obtained government scholarships for missions in Algeria (1856), Greece (1858), Egypt (1866, 1868) and endeavored to “fix the different human types that are about to merge into one and same people”. Cordier undertakes the constitution of a carved repertoire and returns from his travels with many busts.

Thanks to the discovery in Algeria of onyx quarries, Cordier is throwing himself into the polychrome as if to better illustrate the shimmer of his oriental subjects and their countries. He uses not only the natural color of marbles, mainly onyx but also patina games of bronze, silver, gold, colored wax and sometimes enamel.

Thus Cordier will immortalize the archetypes of the colonies of the peoples of Africa and Asia. The color of its marble and alabaster, its enamels, contrasting with its flesh of gold, silver or bronze, comes to personify and animate like so many portraits, the faces of our distant elsewhere.

Charles Cordier as Louis-Ernest Barrias (1841-1905) or Carrier-Belleuse, are sculptors who see in the use of the relationship between materials, a new dimension to open in the ornamental and industrial statuary. Indeed, the technological advances of the nineteenth century can offer through electroplating, chemical patina or enameling, not just a simple polychrome, but a second life to their works.

Of course like most sculptors of his time, Cordier is also known and celebrated for more conventional work. He participated in major projects of the Second Empire Opera, the Louvre, and the City Hall. And will realize large private orders including for Baron James de Rothschild Ferrières Castle. He is also the author of monuments to Ibrahim Pasha in Cairo and Christopher Columbus in Mexico City.

   He counts the Emperor Napoleon III among its sponsors, the Empress Eugenie acquired for the Chinese Museum at the Palace of Fontainebleau the Arab Woman, flaming marble-onyx and silver-plated bronze.

Exuberant, multicolored and sometimes luxurious, Cordier’s sculpture is a reflection of the Second Empire. It will be misunderstood by some of its contemporaries but still testifies today of the richness of inspiration which the artists of the second Empire showed.

marble map algeria

Map indicating the Onyx marble carriers in the region of Tlemcen, Algeria (1884)