Alfred BOUCHER (Bouy-sur-Orvin 1850 – 1934 Aix-les-Bains) – « The Terrassier » or The navvy at work. Founder: F Barbedienne
One of the prints for the Terrassier is located in the Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes.
From Strasbourg to Paris, via Rennes, his works are in many public collections.
Details of the subject represented
A peasant, wearing only a belt tied around his waist, is working. With his spade, he digs the earth, calling on a powerful and tense musculature.
A la Terre is a work in the realist vein of Boucher, like Le Forgeron and La Hayeuse. However, the character representing a digging peasant, with tense and bulging muscles, embodies an idealized vision of manual labor. We find there the heroic spirit which animated Meunier, Dalou and Rodin when they approached subjects which paid homage to Labour.
Exhibited at the Salon of 1891, the work earned Alfred Boucher a Medal of Honor. In its day, it was called by critics ‘a Michelangelo apotheosis of muscle and effort’. Alfred Boucher gives his character a heroic dimension, through the extraordinary tension of the muscles, far removed from a simple naturalistic representation of a peasant at work. The monumental marble adorned one of the facades of the Galliéra museum in Paris.
This work was described by critics as: michelangelesque of muscle and effort.
Who is Alfred Boucher? :
Alfred Boucher, born September 23, 1850 in Bouy-sur-Orvin and died in Aix-les-Bains on August 18, 1934, was a French sculptor and painter. He enjoyed great recognition during his lifetime and obtained numerous public commissions. He was Camille Claudel’s teacher and the founder of the artists’ residence La Ruche in Paris.
Alfred Boucher’s father, a farm worker in Bouy-sur-Orvin, moved to Nogent-sur-Seine (the Champ Calot district) in 1859 in the service of the sculptor Joseph Marius Ramus. Noticed by the artist, whose assistant he became, the teenager was introduced to the sculptor Paul Dubois, a native of Nogent-sur-Seine, who encouraged him in his vocation as an artist.
Supported by scholarships from his city and his department, Alfred Boucher entered the School of Fine Arts in Paris in 1869 and studied under Paul Dubois and Auguste Dumont. Despite a double failure at the first prize in Rome, he received the second prize for sculpture in 18761. He spent a long time in Italy twice, in 1877-1878 and 1883-1884.
The Salon of 1881 crowned him for Filial Piety. From then on, his fame increased through the distribution of bronze reductions of his works and through the many busts he produced: he immortalized men of science like Laennec, men of letters like Maupassant, and political figures. like King George I of Greece or President Jean Casimir-Perier, and many others.
He became one of the most sought-after French artists for public commissions and successfully tackled various subjects. In a realistic vein, he expressed the taste of his time for Antiquity and reborn Olympism with his group of runners entitled Au but! or Les Coureurs, a perfectly balanced group. The three men repeat the same movement but a few centimeters apart, the duplication of gestures causes dynamism. The work was awarded at the Salon of 1886 in Paris, then received a medal at the Universal Exhibition of 1889. A large version (2 meters) made in bronze was installed in the Luxembourg garden in Paris but was sent to the cast iron under the Vichy2 regime. In 1913, a copy of this group was installed in Bucharest where it obtained the status of historical monument. In 2018 in France, a project to overhaul the group is planned3. In the same spirit, it represents the discus thrower Gustave Huot as an antique discobolus on a medal.
He also tackles, like certain colleagues of the time (Jules Dalou, Constantin Meunier, Paul Richer…), social and naturalist subjects by representing men at work with Le Terrassier or La Petite Moissonneuse.
However, he prefers more poetic themes by associating nature, female nudes and mythology as in the Volubilis and Bathers series. These decorative subjects were disseminated by reproductions in bronze, marble or Sèvres porcelain.
Appreciated by the wealthy bourgeoisie and by the political authorities, he moved to Aix-les-Bains in 1889 while keeping his Parisian studio, and honored numerous commissions for commemorative monuments. We can cite as examples the funeral chapel of the Hériot family in 1899 at La Boissière-Ecole and the funeral chapel of the Caulaincourt family of Vicence (« The Duchess of Vicence ») in 1894 at Caulaincourt, or the burial of the Lyon minister Auguste Burdeau in Paris at the Père-Lachaise cemetery. At the same time, he painted a few canvases [ref. necessary].
At the height of his fame, he was crowned with the grand prize for sculpture at the Universal Exhibition of 1900. After the Great War, using a new material, reinforced cement, Alfred Boucher still produced, at the end of his life, war memorials in Nogent-sur-Seine (1920), and Aix-les-Bains (1922).
Faithful to the city which had supported him in his formative years, he founded, in 1902 in Nogent-sur-Seine, the Paul Dubois-Alfred Boucher museum, which became the Camille Claudel museum in 2017, which houses a collection of his works. Generous and philanthropic, he also created, the same year, the Parisian city of La Ruche to help young artists by having workshops set up for them in the Montparnasse district by recovering a pavilion from the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
He also had a role as trainer of the younger generation and encouraged the talents of Laure Coutan or Camille Claudel who made a bust of his first master, or even Louis Morel, who would become Auguste Renoir’s collaborator and practitioner in Essoyes.
Upon his death, Alfred Boucher is buried in the cemetery of Nogent-sur-Seine. A bust of his wife, Élise, adorns his tomb, as well as a representation of his mother’s face, at the base of the monument4.
In 1935, a retrospective of his work honored him in Paris. In 2017, a large part of his works exhibited in the museum dedicated to him are stored in reserve to showcase those of Camille Claudel.
Dimensions: H 40, W 39, D 18.5
Very good state