On 21 April 1879 the City of Paris announced its intention to sponsor a sculpture celebrating the Republic and called on French sculptors to submit entries to a competition. Dalou was in London at the time, still living in exile after his involvement with the Paris Commune eight years earlier. He read about the competition in a Parisian newspaper and, excited by the project, began work. The first flurry of activity produced the studies in the Australian National Gallery. A second model followed (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), little changed conceptually, but larger and more refined in the details to suit presentation to the competition judges. Dalou took this second model to Paris where, by October, it was displayed at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for inspection by the jury and the public.
In the event the commission went to Léopold Morice (1846-1920), although Dalou's entry was well received by the public.1 Conscious of its appeal, the jury relented to the extent that on 24 October they informed Dalou that his work would also be erected, not at the central site (now the Place de la République) but at the Place du Trône, which would be renamed Place de la Nation in honour of the sculpture on the occasion of its unveiling. A cast in plaster painted to look like bronze was unveiled in 1889, and the completed work was finally inaugurated in 1899.2
The Gallery's study of the central figure for The triumph of the Republic was modelled at some time soon after April 1879 as the first step towards the completed figure to top the monument. The figure was modelled unclothed, as was Dalou's practice, so that the dynamic of the pose would be implicit in the figure from the start and not superimposed as an effect of the drapery. The pose of the figure is nearly identical with that of the monumental figure, with the right arm extended in a gesture of benevolence or acknowledgement, the left positioned to eventually support her attribute, the fasces. The fasces and the Phrygian cap, symbols of the Republic, appear in the model submitted to the jury.
Although Dalou did not customarily make preliminary drawings, a drawing thought to be related to the figure of the Republic survives in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. This undated drawing shows a figure and studies of legs in pen-and-ink. The pose is frontal, still and symmetrical, with arms outstretched and legs together. In this respect, the drawing shares affinities with the study for the figure of the Republic now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. This terracotta study is taken to a higher degree of finish than the Gallery's work and is posed with legs together, one arm on the hip. It is more like the drawing than the completed monument. Undoubtedly made after the spontaneous example in the Gallery's collection, this figure represents an aside in Dalou's direction towards the final monument.
Dalou seems to deviate little from his initial sketch in the final figure of the Republic and this consistency between first sketch and final realisation is even more apparent in his study for the chariot. Here the study accords closely with the maquette presented to the jury and the final bronze, a fact all the more impressive since, according to Edouard Lanteri, Dalou's successor at the National Art Training School, the chariot was modelled in a day:
He left me in charge of all his work and never shall I forget the impression made upon me one evening when, for the first time, I uncovered this first sketch for the competition. It was a masterpiece, a veritable masterpiece, made in a day, but in a day of true inspiration! So fresh, so expressive, so full of life and 'go' were all these tiny figures, that they seemed the outcome of one inspired moment of creative energy.3
The chariot, drawn by two lions, is assisted by allegorical figures. Liberty sits on one of the lions and guides the chariot. On the left is Justice (female) and on the right Labour (male), both with attendant putti carrying the attributes appropriate to each. The fourth figure, symolising Peace and Abundance, follows in the train. The Baroque exuberance of the work was remarked on from the moment Dalou's entry was shown in Paris in 1879.4 In July 1879 Dalou himself wrote to a friend: 'I have a bomb to drop. The monument has an inclination towards Louis quatorze, the style I love above all others'. He is further reported to have said that 'the task of the future will be to put at the service of democracy all the glittering pomp of the century of Louis IXV'.5
At the summit of the sketch for the chariot is what remains of a ball representing the world. On the sketch this has been sawn in half and a hole made as if to take the locating pin of a separately modelled figure to surmount it. The study for the figure of the Republic in the Gallery's collection is not a pair for the chariot; it differs in scale and colour and lacks a base suitable to couple with the chariot. A lost figure once crowning the chariot must be assumed.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.48.
- Eugène Véron, 'Concours pour le Monument de la Place de la République', L'Art, vol. 4, 1879, pp. 130-5, provides a contemporary account of some of the 150 entries by artists, sculptors and architects, and singles out Dalou's submission as the finest.
- For a detailed account see John M. Hunisak, 'Dalou's Triumph of the Republic: A Study of Private and Public Meanings', lecture delivered at 24th International Congress of the History of Art, Bologna, 1979.
- E. Lanteri, 'Jules Dalou: Sculptor', Magazine of Art, vol. 25, 1902, pp.378-80, cf. p.378. Lanteri, however, also states that the sketch was destroyed, a fact contradicted by Dreyfous' publication a year later.
- Véron, op. cit., p.134.
- Quoted in an obituary notice: Fourcaud, 'Jules Dalou', Le Gaulois, 16 April 1902 (cited in n.9 in Hunisak, op. cit.).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010