Émile-Antoine BOURDELLE

Plaster signed « A. Bourdelle », dedicated «…uis Disp…» (probably for Louis Dispan de Floran) and bears the inscription on the plinth « mon domaine c’est l’air quand le vent se lève mon âme tourbillonne».
Circa 1901.

Height: 61 cm – 2 ‘ 0″ in.
Depth: 34 cm – 1′ 1³/₈” in.
Width: 29 cm – 0’ 11³/₈” in.

Literature: DUFET (Michel), Le drame de Beethoven vécu par Bourdelle, Paris, 1966; KAISER (Dorothea), «L’Orchestre silencieux» d’Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929): Les sculptures de Beethoven, La revue du Louvre et des musées de France, n° 5/6, décembre 1995, p. 91 à 106.


Beethoven held a genuine and almost obssessional fascination on Bourdelle, for his personnality locked up in deafness as for the power of his music to which the artist was introduced quite young. He had in common with Beethoven a high forehead, a fiery gaze and his hair style. The physical identification soon became an artistic one. From 1888 until his death, he thereby dedicated around 80 effigies to Beethoven, in bronze, stone, terracotta and plaster, all disguised self-portraits, in which the facial expression varies with an impressive sensitivity. For this purpose he got his inspiration from a living imprint captured by the Austrian sculptor Franz Klein in 1812. To do so, Beethoven’s eyes and mouth had to be protected and the latter had to breathe by means of two tubes put down his nose.

The original plaster copy, housed in Beethoven’s native home, was to be followed by many artist’s proofs, which explains the large diffusion of Beethoven’s portrait of which Bourdelle himself bought a copy. These various effigies were as time went by treated in different ways : eyes open or closed, with a lot or very little hair, with a jabot, with one hand or with two, or with the cheek resting on one hand. Our plaster model is presented facing forward, with closed eyes, on a prismatic base allowing to sit the figure in space. The presentation of this bust is however tormented with the dishevelled hair, the wrinkling of the forehead and the contraction of the jaw. It clearly shows Rodin’s influence although the obvious quest for formal simplification highlights Bourdelle’s new approach. This copy ‘Beethoven on a column with closed eyes’ was created in the years 1901 to 1902.

Our copy is dedicated, as was often the case, as the artist used to offer these plaster copies to his near relatives. One can clearly see the mention ‘ui Disp’. It referred most probably to the Dispan de Floran family, and in particular Louis Dispan de Floran, with whom Bourdelle had close links. Photographs and writings from this period evidence the fact that he possessed a ‘Beethoven on a column with eyes closed’. The plinth of our copy bears the wording ‘my realm is air, when the wind comes up my soul swirls’. It is the reproduction of one of Beethoven’s citation which the artist probably came across in his conversation books, as he was in the habit of methodically compiling all documents related to the musician. The Musée Bourdelle holds a plaster copy similar to ours in all respects, except of course for the dedication. All of the plaster copies were artist’s proofs. They were never cast in bronze during Bourdelle’s time but led to the ‘Beethoven dite Hébrard’, of which one copy is kept at the Musée Bourdelle.

Even though Bourdelle regularly exhibited his sculptures of Beethoven, the first retrospective on this theme only took place in 1951 in Bonn and in several German towns, while the second was held at the Musée Bourdelle in 1970. The latter currently displays a new exhibition until the 17th of December 2021: ‘Bourdelle devant Beethoven’.