Sometimes artists get lost in the shuffle of time, and their art is shuffled as well. Such is the fate of René Letourneur, a French sculptor who flourished after the first World War and until the 1970’s. A medal winner at his first exhibition – the 1922 Salon des Artistes Français,- he went on to win the Médaille d’Or at the Exposition des Arts décoratifs et industriels in 1925, and then the Premier Grand Prix de Rome for sculpture in 1926. It was this last win that connects him to Judith, since she was the subject of his winning sculpture.
Alas, there are two pieces of data that lead to the actual sculpture of Judith: a newspaper clipping and a catalog of works from the collections of the L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.
The newspaper clipping: This is the only contemporary photo of Judith, shown in it’s original state. It must have been a beauty to win the Premier Grand Prix de Rome – established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France, the French scholarship for arts students that pays for them to study in Rome for three to five years.
After this win and three years in Rome, Letourneaur was appointed a commission from the Ecuadorian government to create a monument to Simon Bolivar. The result was a gigantic bronze frieze (12 x 10 m) depicting the nation’s liberator supported by winged victories, leading his men to triumph. During WWII, he joined the French Resistance and worked as a journalist for the Panorama review. After the war, he continue to combine art and architecture in official commissions such as the war memorial in Alençon, facade of the Gambetta lycée in Arras, and two statues on the Pont du Pecq. He finished his career as an art teacher. (1)
And what about Judith?
The catalog: Students of the L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts maintain a digital catalog of collections inherited from the Royal Academies, augmented by prestigious donations and school work until 1968.(2) This is the only place to find the prize-winning Judith – now broken and stained. And missing Holofernes’ head as well as her hand. My guess is she exists in a storage room somewhere with only memories of her former splendor.
Age is so unkind to women. Even those made of plaster …
(1) Catherine Bedel, The works of the sculptor, René Letourneur, on sale in a Paris gallery, Le Monde, 19 March 2004.