George F. Harding Collection;
George F. Harding Museum, Chicago, 1939;
Art Institute of Chicago, bequest of George F. Harding, 1982;
Deacessioned in 2014
D. Renoux, ‘Raoul Larche, statuaire (1860-1912)’ in Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français , 1990, pp. 243-76.
François-Raoul Larche began his studies in 1878 under François Jouffroy, Jean-
Alexandre Falguière, and Eugène Delaplanche at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux
Arts in Paris. Larche was a regular exhibitor at the official salons from 1884
onward and was awarded the Second Grand Prix in 1886 at the Prix de Rome
competition. At the Exposition Universelle in 1900 he received a gold medal.
After rather traditional beginnings, Raoul Larche became the quintessential Art
Nouveau sculptor through the evocative power of his many works. A road
accident in Paris on June 2, 1912 caused his premature death.
When Raoul Larche exhibited his La Tempête et se Nuées at the Salon of 1896
he shocked and divided the critics and the public. For an artist best known for
exhibiting more peaceful subjects such as Jésus enfant devant les docteurs in
1890, La Prairie et le Ruisseau in 1893 and La Mer in 1894, the group was
certainly a departure.
In his review of Larches’ career, Renoux was troubled by La Tempête
wondering at the artist’s audacity in trying to illustrate something as
“untranslatable” and “elusive” as a storm. For the critic Henri Rochefort it was
a masterwork and he described the work as “Michel-angelesque”.
Although highly original in sculpture, the theme of the storm was treated in
some important paintings earlier in the 19th century. Géricault exhibited his
Radeau de la Méduse , full of exhausted bodies at the Salon of 1819 and Eugène
Delacroix used the theme for his La Barque de Dante in 1822. This inspiration
is repeated in the latter part of the century with the evocation of La Tempête sur
les côtes de Belle-île by Claude Monet at the Salon of 1886, and especially in
sculpture by Rodin who started with his work on la Porte de l’Enfer , inspired by
Dante, as early as 1880.
Raoul Larche depicts his storm as the dynamic movement of a swirling wave,
carrying the bodies of four clouds, from which emerges a female figure in full
extension, embodying the storm, her mouth open in a powerful screech and her
arms outflung to destroy everything in her path.
With the repletion of the faces and the similar bodies La Tempête et se Nuées
also appears to be metamorphosis of a single woman, going through various
stages of tragedy and despair before rising from the turmoil a triumphant yet
Raoul Larche won the award for sculpture at the Salon for this monumental
work measuring over 3.50 meter high. The city of Paris commissioned a bronze
example in this size. It was exhibited in the Salon of 1899, and then the
Universal Exhibition of 1900 before entering the collections of the Petit-Palais.
During World War II, the original cast was destroyed and the bronze melted to
recover the metal.
After the success of the sculpture at the Salon, the artist decided to have the
model edited by Siot-Decauville, the dimension reduced to a quarter of the
exhibition plaster. The foundry offered the 85 cm high bronze for 3,000 francs,
making Larche the second on the list of most expensive sculptors in the edition
catalogues (the first being Jean-Léon Gérôme).
The price of the cast, the complexity of the model and the size of the sculpture
explain why the edition was limited to very few samples. The chef-modèle of
the Siot-Decauville foundry reappeared in 1993 and is now exhibited at the
Musée du Petit-Palais in Paris.
Siot-Decauville also offered the present smaller version, which is 61 cm high.
Our sample of this cast is a particularly fine and detailed example.