Rosso began Maternity soon after his arrival in Paris from Milan in mid-1889. An introduction to the writer Paul Alexis (1847-1901) may have prompted Maternity, Rosso's third and last sculpture depicting a mother and child.1 The mother and child in this composition are thought to represent Alexis' wife and infant daughter. 'Alexis was pleased to receive me', Rosso wrote to his friend Felice Cameroni in a letter dated 31 July 1889, 'and as soon as I have the means to acquire the clay and other necessary materials, I shall sculpt his tiny tiny daughter who is so beautiful. I saw her just for a moment, totally cradled on her mother's lap with a small foot almost in her mouth while her mother was putting on her little shoe'.2 Rosso modelled them in clay in December 1889 and had the sculpture fired in January. In a letter to Cameroni dated 26 January, Rosso mentions that the work had already been delivered to Paul Alexis. 'I have made the work and it is fired. And when I can, I shall cast it in bronze. If I could show it to you, it would please you. It's her (the mother) with child suckling. The hands are also there because they entered as a visual impression at that moment'.3 A cast in plaster of mother and child is located in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, and a second in wax over plaster is in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Turin.
The Australian National Gallery's version is a radical refinement of the original conception. Rosso completely cut away the head of the mother, leaving only the child at the breast.4 This severe editing may have been a response to the difficulty in registering the presence of the child against the dominating features of the mother. It is also possible that Rosso considered the mother's head extraneous to the 'impression' of the feeding infant, allowing the nurturing breast and supporting arm to suggest her presence. This truncated version also exists as a plaster cast located at the Museo Rosso, Barzio, Italy. The Gallery's example in wax over plaster is the only one known and is probably unique. A limited number of bronzes have been cast from the plaster in Barzio.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.68.
- Together with Mother and child sleeping 1883, bronze, 36.0 x 30.0 x 19.0 cm, collection Cesare Fasola, Florence; and Aetas Aurea 1886, plaster, 63.5 x 51.0 x 33.0 cm, Museo Rosso, Barzio.
- In a letter to Felice Cameroni dated 31 July 1889, Rosso states: Alexis m'ha accolto bene li faccio appenaho i mezzi per la creta e occorrente la sue piccina piccinaé cosi belle l'ho vista in un momento tutta gommitolata sulle ginocchia della mamma con un piedino quasi sulla bocca mentre questa le metteva la scarpettina. Se son buono farla è una cosetta che piace certo' (Civica Biblioteca d'Arti di Milano, reprinted in Mostra dl Medardo Rosso, Milan: Societa perle Belle Arti, Edition Esposizione Permanente, 1979, p.95).
- Letter to Felice Cameroni dated 26 January 1890 (Civica Biblioteca dArte di Milano, reprinted in Mostra di Medardo Rosso, op. Cit., p.102); 'Altro ho che da Alexis ho fatto il lavoro ed è goa a cipcere. E quando potro lo faro in bronzo. Se l'avessi a vedere certo di piacerebbe. È lei (la madre) col cambino che tetta. E ci sono anche le mani ma perche entravano nell'impressione dell'occhio in quel momento.'
- Rosso made such alterations to a number of his works. See also the entry for Petite rieuse 1890.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010