I had the opportunity to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge a few days ago, it is quite an amazing place architecturally, and the art pieces inside.
All the works are beautiful but I was particularly taken by French sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou. Dalou was born in Paris on 31st December 1838 and died on 15th April 1902. He was born to a working class family and made no secret of his working class background. It has been claimed that his sympathies towards the working class did obstruct his career under the Second Empire, as he was refused the Prix de Rome by the state on several occasions, nevertheless he continued to pursue his passion and through it made friends with fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin.
But ultimately it was his association with the Paris commune and his socialist views that eventually led to him to flee to London in 1871 (he was given a life sentence in his absence by the French government). It was during his time in London that he produced a several pieces including those I would like to highlight here.
French Peasant or Paysanne française is one of a series of statuettes of women produced by Dalou. It is a comment on the highly stratified society and the layers of social divide. The sculpture depicts a peasant girl wearing a simple headdress seated on an upturned basket, suckling her child. It is a pure and simple piece but speaks volumes, why? Because here is a mother who does not have much, is probably having a hard day at work, but seeing her child is hungry, has stopped, but cannot find a place to sit so turns her basket upside down and begins to feed her child. She is a representative of the working class. She does not have servants helping her, pampering her, looking after and feeding her baby.
It really is a beautiful piece capturing life, it is no surprise it has been widely reproduced in different sizes and materials.
I also liked Palm Sunday at Boulogne or Le Jour des Rameaux à Boulogne. This is a terracotta piece and depicts a beautiful Breton peasant girl on Palm Sunday cradling her prayer book and a spray of Spring flowers in her arms. Why I like this piece is because the girl is so at peace with herself. She is not concerned with anything, she calm, serene and tranquil, just standing there. Looking at this piece definitely had the same effect on me.
I would recommend visiting the museum for all the pieces on show, but for the sculptures definitely check these ones out. It is good to know Dalou was awarded the Grand Prix of the Exposition Universelle and was made a commander of the Legion of Honor, he was also one of the founding members of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.