Called Petite rieuse to distinguish it from Grande rieus 1891 (Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan), a larger scupture also depicting a laughing woman, this work is thought to be a portrait of Bianca Garavaglia, a Parisian café–concert singer popularly known as Bianca de Toledo.1
In the catalogue for the exhibition 'Prima Mostra dell Impressionismo e du Medardo Rosso', organised by Ardengo Soffici and held in Florence in 1910, Petite rieuse is dated 1890, probably on the advice of Rosso himself. The date is supported by a letter to Felice Cameroni of 26 January 1890 in which Rosso mentions working on a portrait of 'a woman of the theatre'.2
Petite rieuse exists in three variant forms and casts thereof. In the first the head is fully modelled in the round and surrounded by a circular collar. In the second version only a vestige of this garment remains, protruding on the right side from the neck to the base of the ear. In the third version, exemplified by the work in the Australian National Gallery's collection, the face and a fringe of hair are cut out like a mask. These variations reflect a process of successive reduction, an attempt to pare the sculpture back to its essence. This occurred at some time after 1890, and possibly as late as the turn of the century.3 An unknown number of casts in wax over plaster exist in addition to the work in the Gallery's collection and include casts in the Museo Rosso, Barzio, Italy, and the Galleria d'Arte Moderna di la Pesaro, Venice.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.70.
- Curt Seidel, 'L'Arte di Medardo Rosso', L'Artista Moderno, vol. 10, March 1911, p.93.
- Letter to Felice Cameroni dated 26 January 1890 (Civica Biblioteca d'Arte di Milano, reprinted in Mostra di Medardo Rosso, op cit., p.102).
- The second type of variation, with the collar cut back to a fragment on the right side of the neck, was certainly in existence by 1894; in that year Rosso presented a cast in bronze to Auguste Rodin which is now in the Musée Rodin, Paris.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010