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Rude, François


RUDE, FRANÇOIS (1784–1855), French sculptor.

Best known as creator of the iconic Departure of the Volunteers in 1792 on the Arc de Triomphe, François Rude exemplifies the moral seriousness of monumental sculpture in mid-nineteenth-century France. An important figure in the burgeoning trend for commemorative statuary, Rude played a seminal role in the period's obsessive glorification of national heroes.

François Rude was born in Dijon on 4 January 1784, the son of a locksmith and stovemaker. Apprenticed to his father before training under the painter François Desvosges, Rude left for Paris in 1807, thanks to the help of a local tax inspector, Louis Frémiet, who was not only his earliest patron but who also adopted the young man when he was orphaned in 1805. Through an introduction to Dominique Vivant Denon, Napoleon's powerful director of the arts, Rude found work in Paris on the Vendôme column under the sculptor Edme Gaulle. Soon after, Rude signaled his artistic ambitions by entering the studio of Pierre Cartellier and registering as a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1809 he competed for the first time for the Prix de Rome, the school's most prestigious prize, which rewarded winners with a five-year stay at the academy's school in the Villa Medici. Although successful in 1812, Rude was denied the opportunity to study in Rome, since the authorities lacked available funds. As a result, the sculptor gained first-hand experience of Italy only in 1843. At a time when the authority of the antique remained central to sculptural practice, this missed opportunity set Rude apart from contemporaries such as David d'Angers, Pradier, and Ramey, whose success in the Prix de Rome was properly recompensed.

Rude's career was further disrupted in 1815 when his benefactor Frémiet, who had rallied to the Bonapartist cause during the Hundred Days, fled to Brussels following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The sculptor, himself a fervent Bonapartist, accompanied his adoptive family and in 1821 married Frémiet's daughter Sophie, an accomplished artist in her own right. Rude's years in Brussels were busy, but did little to advance his reputation, and in 1827 he returned to France, where he enjoyed his first success at the Salon exhibition with Mercury Attaching His Wings. In 1831, his fame increased with the wildly successful Neapolitan Fisherboy, a genre work of a naked infant playing with a tortoise that spawned many imitators and countless reproductions.

It was, however, the commission for one of the colossal relief sculptures to decorate the Arc de Triomphe, a monument begun during the empire but completed only in 1836, that sealed Rude's reputation. The Departure of the Volunteers in 1792, popularly known as La Marseillaise, overshadows the other decorative groups, by Antoine Etex and Jean-Pierre Cortot, which recount the defense of the First Republic, and the triumph and subsequent defeat of the empire. Dominated by a compelling, dynamic allegory of Liberty, Rude's compact band of warriors and the monument's nationalist élan evokes a vast popular force rooted in the mythic struggles of ancient Gaul. During the Restoration, Rude had accepted a commission to eulogize the armies of the crown on Jean François Térèse Chalgrin's arch, and under the July Monarchy he produced statues of

the Maréchal de Saxe for the Musée historique in Versailles (1836–1838) and of the infant Louis XIII for the duc de Luynes's château at Dampierre (1840–1842). It is, however, works like the monuments to the Napoleonic general Henri-Gratien Bertrand (Châteauroux, 1850–1854) and Marshal Ney (Paris, 1853), and to the emperor himself, with the extraordinary Napoleon Awaking to Immortality (Fixin, 1845–1847), that seem closest to the sculptor's own sympathies.

Increasingly neglected by the authorities, frequently absent from the Salon, and snubbed by the academy, Rude focused on teaching during the 1840s and displayed sympathies with the republican Left with his haunting tomb to Godefroy Cavaignac (Paris, 1845–1847). A self-professed "radical democrat" in 1848, Rude produced a colossal allegory of the republic for the Pantheon, a monument that perished during the June uprising. Rude's final years were dominated by two projects for his birthplace, Dijon. Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter and Love Ruling the World, regarded by Rude as his "artistic testament," return to a classical idiom he had largely abandoned since the early 1830s. Though it is for works that reveal more contemporary, politically charged affiliations that he is best known, these large-scale marbles, still incomplete at his death on 3 November 1855, point to a tension between tradition and innovation that characterizes Rude's career as a whole.

See alsoFrance; French Revolution; Napoleon.


Butler, Ruth. "Long Live the Revolution, the Republic, and Especially the Emperor! The Political Sculpture of Rude." In Art and Architecture in the Service of Politics, edited by Henry Millon and Linda Nochlin, 92–107. Cambridge, Mass. 1978.

Calmette, Joseph. François Rude. Paris, 1920.

Fourcaud, Louis de. François Rude, sculpteur: ses oeuvres et son temps (1784–1855). Paris, 1904.

Neil McWilliam

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