ALFRED BOUCHER (1850 - 1934)
ALFRED BOUCHER (1850 - 1934)
'Au But' (To the Goal) - A Very Fine Patinated Bronze Figural Group
FRANCE, Circa 1890
REF No. B73160
Signed 'A. BOUCHER' and with title plaquette 'AU BUT / 1ERE MEDAILLE D'OR SALON 1886-87 / ACQUIS PAR L'ETAT A. BOUCHER SCULPT.',
Width :105 cm | 41³/₈ in
Depth :50 cm | 31³/₄ in
This iconic patinated bronze sculpture by Alfred Boucher depicts three athletes in dynamic pose, thrusting forward with their arms outstretched to reach the finishing line.
A sensation in its own time, Boucher captures in ‘Au But’ a powerful kinetic dynamism. The contradiction between the expansive drive of the figures, with their outstretched arms and elongated torsos and the straitened confinement of the base, upon which the athletes precariously balance, creates a dynamic tension that causes the viewer’s eye to be constantly moved and challenged.
‘Au But’ also displays an interesting paradox between notions of modernity and classicism in the transition of sculptural themes of the period, and confirms Boucher’s place as a true academic master. The movement and forcefulness of the figures drawn directly from life are, in a way, a precursor to a true modernist approach, while the theme and even the captured energy, reference ancient classical sculpture such as Myron’s 'Discobolus'.
Boucher's friend, the explorer Gabriel Bonvalot posed for the initial plaster composition, entitled Les Coureurs, which was exhibited at the Prix de Salon in 1886 to critical acclaim and awarded a medal première classe. He was awarded with a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1889. The contemporary critic Hippolyte Parigot commented on the bold audacity of the artist:
Ils sont trois qui touchent au but, qui y aspirent, qui y tendent de tous leurs muscles, de toute leur âme, par un farouche envolement des jambes, une avide projection des bras, et un élan musculaire de tout le corps, dans un mouvement inouï.
Following the success of the plaster version of ‘Au But’, at the 1886 Salon, the French state commissioned a life-size bronze to be cast. The finished cast was exhibited at the Salon in 1887 (no. 3675), before being placed in the Luxembourg Gardens. Such was the popularity of this work; it was edited by some of the leading foundries of the day, including Barbedienne, Susse and Siot-Decauville. The present cast is one of the largest examples.
As recognition of his success Boucher was awarded France’s highest award the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1887.
Born in Bouy-sur-Orvin near Nogent-sur-Seine in 1850, he is often referred to as an academic artist, his work, known mostly for its likeness to life and wonderful sense of movement, imbued with an allegorical symbolism, glorifying the labour of everyday man.
Born to modest beginnings, the son of a farmhand, Boucher moved with his parents to to Nogent-sur-Seine, where they become employees of the neo-classical sculptor Joseph-Marius Ramus (1805-1888). Ramus, recognising the boys talent, opened his studio to him and together with Paul Dubois and the mayor of Nogent-sur-Seine, assisted him in receiving a scholarship to attend the école des Beaux-Arts in Paris. At the age of 19, Boucher moved to Paris to study in the workshop of the sculptor Augustin Dumont at the école des Beaux-Arts and was awarded with his first medal at the Salon of 1874.
He travelled several times to Italy, where, surrounded by the works of antiquity, he was able to refine his skills and widen his knowledge. He spent two periods of time in Florence and in Rome, first from 1877-1878 and then five years later from 1883-1884.
He is perhaps best known for his bronze work entitled ‘Au But’ or ‘To The Goal’. In 1886 Boucher entered 'Au But' in the Prix de Salon, where it was received to great acclaim and a première classe medal. Boucher was commissioned in 1887 to complete a larger version in bronze for the Luxemburg Gardens in front of the Sénat. He was then awarded with a golden medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1889.
His prolific output included busts of artists and politicians, statues and public monuments. His work reflected his classical training and interests, but embodied a modern aesthetic, one of symbolism and expression that characterised the transition from the 19th to the 20th century.
J. Piette, Alfred Boucher 1850-1934 ""sculpteur – humaniste"", ex. cat. Musée Paul Dubois – Alfred Boucher, Nogent-sur-Seine, 2000, no. 39a, p. 46.