Auguste Preault
Biography of French Romantic Sculptor.

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Ophelia (1876) detail
Bronze relief, Musee d'Orsay.

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Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Daniel Chester French (1850-1931)

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Auguste Preault (1809-1879)

One of the great 19th century sculptors and a member of the Romanticism Movement, Antoine-Augustin Preault (known as Auguste) was politically outspoken during his time, which resulted in his work being largely overshadowed by his contemporaries. Although sculpture was generally seen as the art least suited to romanticism, Preault seems to have deliberately challenged this view by attempting the expression of intense personal emotion in the form of relief sculpture.

His reliefs are extremely emotive, but unfortunately many were destroyed or vandalised during the 1830 upheavals in France. His most famous surviving work is Ophelia (1876, bronze relief, Musee d'Orsay).

Early Career

Préault was born in Marais, the working class suburb of Paris. Little is known of his early life, or where exactly he learned the art of sculpture, except that he was apprenticed to an ornamental carver. This influence can clearly be seen in his later exquisite bronze relief and wood carvings. At some stage in his early career he also worked in the studio of the Romantic sculptor Pierre-Jean David d'Angers (1788–1856), whose fame rests mainly on his pediment of the Pantheon and the marble Wounded Philopoemen at the Louvre. Préault's first serious works were mainly in the form of portrait medallions, in the style of d'Angers. The actor Daumier is also recorded as owning an early relief entitled Two Slaves Cutting the Throat of a Young Roman Actor, but this no longer survives.

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development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

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carving, see:
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Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.
Wood Carving
Chip carving, relief carving of
softwoods and hardwoods.

For a list of the world's top 100
3-D artworks, by the best sculptors
in the history of art, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Exhibits at the Salon

In 1833 Préault exhibited his first two works at the Paris Salon: Two Poor Women, Beggary and Gilbert Dying in the Hospital (both now destroyed). During this period, he became politically outspoken, and it is assumed that his submissions in 1834 were refused due to his anti-bourgeois views. His studio was vandalised and many of his plasters destroyed.

Returns to the Salon

Preault was only accepted again by the Salon in 1839, but his return was widely welcomed. The art critic Theophile Gautier said Préault "is a sculptor full of life and movement, audacious, and following his idea until the end, a man of energy who understands statue making in a great manner and who, after a most brilliant beginning, has seen the doors of the Salon closed to him for five or six years ..." Preault, like many Romantic artists, rejected the idea of imitating classical Greek sculpture, choosing not to model mythological figures, but rather literary figures from plays and poetry. His style was vigorous, faces and figures were emotive and dramatic.


Ophelia Relief

In 1842 he started work on a relief figure of Ophelia, who drowned herself on being rejected by the hero in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Ophelia is shown drifting lifeless on water, her eyes closed and mouth partly open. The waves and folds of her hair, swirl around her body, emphasising her curves and suggesting the stiffness of death has not yet taken its toll. Designed like a funerary plaque from the Renaissance era, the relief is still presented as a picture. Refused by the Salon in 1849, the plaster was cast in bronze the following year at the order of the Government. The influence of Jean Goujon (1510-68), Germain Pilon (1529-90), and Pierre Puget (1622-94) can be seen in this work.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate nineteenth century sculptors like Auguste Preault, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Other Sculptures by Preault

Clémence Isaure (1848, marble, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris)
Commissioned by King Louis-Philippe for the Luxembourg Gardens, this was a statue to the beautiful poet, Clémence Isaure. Préault's rival Francois Rude also sculpted a statue for the park of Joan of Arc.

The Killing, La Tuerie (1834, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Chartres)
Typical Romantic style, this is a relief fragment (cast in bronze in 1859). It shows figures tearing at each other in a nightmarish, passionate manner. The anguish of its victims finds no parallel in the visual arts of the century until Rodin's Burghers of Calais.

The Silence of Death (1849, marble, Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris)
The Tomb of Jacob Robles.

Crucifix (1840-46, wood carving, St-Gervais & St-Protais Church, Paris).

Préault died in Paris 1879 and was interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. He never quite received the same fame as other sculptors from his time including Francois Rude, Antoine-Louis Barye or his teacher David d'Angers. However, painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, such as John Everett Millais and Dante Rossetti, were influenced by both his subject matter and style.

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• For the evolution and development of the visual arts, see: History of Art.

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