Why sculpture is not boring? Pour une histoire des techniques et pratiques de la sculpture à l’époque industrielle (1850-1914), basée sur l’étude d’après le modèle 3D

Charles Baudelaire’s Salon de 1846 included an article that is still famous today, entitled ‘Pourquoi la sculpture est ennuyeuse’ (‘Why sculpture is boring’), in which he highlights the public’s lack of interest in sculpture, a medium that remained too classical in the first half of the 19th century. However, in the 1850s and 1860s, under the influence of the industrial revolutions, sculpture underwent profound changes in terms of both processes and practices. Workshops become increasingly specialized; foundries became veritable industries that implemented mechanization and division of labour; workshops were more diverse, with specialized workers; they also started accepting women, some of whom—like Camille Claudel—brought upon durable changes to codes of expression while others—like Hélène Bertaux—had lasting effects on institutions.

As a result, the traditional practices of sculpture were dramatically changed. Public statuary was a major source of contracts; the industrialization of foundries enabled taking on large projects, while the rising demand for smaller statues resulted in sculpture becoming more widespread in the form of reductions, editions, and copies using a variety of materials—biscuit porcelain, stoneware, painted plaster, etc.—that popularized sculpted images and brought them into the sphere of the middle class.

As a result, sculpture as a profession underwent a number of transformations while its industrialization fuelled the fantasy of the invention of a ‘sculpting machine’. These profound changes have left a mark in the field of sculpture.

The goal of this ARC project is to study, from a technological perspective and through the entire chaîne opératoire, the mutations in the practice of sculpture in the industrial era (1850–1914), by looking into three main topics: the evolution of the sculpture as a profession, including its mechanization; the industrialization of the processes of sculpture; and lastly, the mutations in workshop practices, including the issue of gender.

Coordination : Sébastien Clerbois, CReA-Patrimoine, Faculté de Philosophie et Sciences sociales - PANORAMA
Partners : Olivier Debeir, LISA, Ecole Polytechnique de Bxl – PANORAMA ; Denis Derycke et David Lo Buglio - Alice, Faculté Architecture - PANORAMA ; Denis Laoureux - CReA-Patrimoine, Faculté de Philosophie et Sciences sociales.

Created on September 3, 2020