Étienne Maurice Falconet

Étienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791), a versatile and facile French sculptor, incorporated late baroque, rococo, and neoclassic elements in his work and reflected the changes in artistic taste that occurred during his era.

Born in Paris on Dec. 1, 1716, Étienne Maurice Falconet studied with the sculptor Jean Baptiste Lemoyne. In 1754 Falconet was admitted to membership in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. In 1757 he became director of sculpture at the Sevrès porcelain factory and was responsible for designing statuettes and decorative objects. The Sevre's factory was owned by the Crown, had great prestige, and produced some of the finest porcelain of the 18th century. One of Falconet's most important patrons was Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, a leader of taste and fashion who had a particular interest in the Sevre's factory.

Falconet was strongly influenced by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the great Italian baroque sculptor of the 17th century, and by Pierre Puget, the most important sculptor in 17th-century France to reflect the dynamic, emotional style created by Bernini. These influences are seen in some of Falconet's early productions, such as his marble Milo of Croton and the Lion (1754), notable for its energetic drama, rich texture, and explosive composition.

During the 1750s, however, Falconet was also creating decorative, intimate sculptures very different from the Milo. These small pieces, some commissioned by Madame de Pompadour, were originally executed in marble, terra-cotta, or plaster; they became extremely popular and were much reproduced in a variety of media, including bisque pottery. Examples of this aspect of Falconet's talent are the marble Allegory of Music, the terra-cotta Allegory of Hunting, and the marble Cupid's Warning. In these works Falconet displays great virtuosity in combining a rococo taste for intimacy, refined elegance, and delicate textures with simplicity of composition, sleek modeling, and smooth lines—characteristics of style that reflect advancing neoclassicism and adapt it to the still vibrant rococo.

Falconet's most important commission was executed for Empress Catherine the Great of Russia: the large bronze Equestrian Monument to Peter the Great in Leningrad (1766-1782). In this imperial monument, which depicts the Emperor calmly astride an excited, plunging horse, Falconet reverts to the grandiose splendor of the baroque and echoes Bernini's dramatic equestrian statue of Louis XIV. The work makes references to antiquity and to neoclassicism, however, in the clarity of the composition, smooth modeling of the horse, majestic figure of the Emperor, and restrained treatment of his draperies.

Falconet produced a relatively small number of sculptures, but his work is remarkable in its variety and skill. He died in Paris on Jan. 24, 1791.


Further Reading on Étienne Maurice Falconet

The most important works on Falconet are in French. His life and works are discussed in Lady Emilia Francis Dilke, French Architects and Sculptors of the 18th Century (1900). There are references to Falconet and photographs of three of his works in Arno Schönberger and Halldor Soehner, The Rococo Age (1960).