Finished the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts' book "Sergel", about the Swedish 1700s sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. Born 1740, Sergel started out working in his father's embroidery shop, showed artistic talent and received training in drawing by Jean Eric Rehn and then sculpting training from Adrien Masreliez and Pierre Hubert L'Archevêque, both of them French and recruited to work on the Swedish royal palace being built in Stockholm – and to train a generation of Swedish artists and sculptors. L'Archeveque brought Sergel with him to Paris for six months, during which time Sergel met and was inspired by neoclassicist sculptor Edme Bouchardon and retired soldier, amateur etcher and conoisseur Comte de Caylus.
Sergel brought drawings by Bouchardon with him home to Sweden and worked hard at acquiring the French master's elegant draughtsmanship, developing exquisite technique. Recognized as an impressive talent, at 27 he received a stipend to go to Rome to study the classical originals. This initially led to a "culture shock" for a Swede who hadn't really been party to this European tradition before. So he started drawing the antique sculptures, moving on to drawing paintings and eventually sculpture. And so, after a couple of years, he starts sculpting, which leads to international recognition. However, as most of his creations ended up in comparatively isolated Sweden, they haven't really entered the world art history canon.
Eating too much rendered Sergel rather fat during his stay in Rome, and he also developed gout and depression when his future started to seem uncertain after rumors that the Swedish government might revoke his stipend. Still, he produced some impressive works, developed a reputation and received international interest. In the end, his old teacher L'Archeveque returned to France in ill health, and Sergel returned to Sweden to take his place as the royal sculptor. He largely didn't get to do the monumental statuary he was hoping for, which led to more melancholy, but was instead deluged with commissions for portrait busts of the royal family and Swedish nobility, as well as doing various decorative stuff for the king. Still, he held Gustav III in the highest esteem, and was justly celebrated for his skills.
He died in 1814. If you're ever in Stockholm, it's not a bad idea to seek out some of his works, for example the altarpiece in Adolf Fredrik's Church.
This book is, if I haven't misunderstood it entirely, the catalogue for a large Sergel exhibit at the National Museum. It concentrates a bit too much on his various sketches and caricatures for my taste, good as they are – I'm not against caricatures per se, far from it but I'm a huge fan of beautiful draughtsmanship, so I would have liked to see a bit more of that.
|(The ink line in this and a number of other of other drawings reminds me of Swedish artist and |
Emil of Lönneberga illustrator Björn Berg. I don't know if anybody agrees with me, but it still does.)
On the other hand, just like I often find nicely rendered sketches more interesting than the finished inked comics art and finished paintings, I find some of of his terra cotta statuary sketches more interesting than the finished, smoother marble sculptures.
Anyway, anything that shows off great art is A-OK in my book, and Sergel is well worth anybody's time, even though I think the biographical narrative could have gotten a little bit more space – though it is an exhibition catalogue, and I understand that the narrative structure is affected by that. Anyway, recommended.