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Playing with Fire: European Terracotta Models, 1740-1840

Exhibition dates: January 28-April 25, 2004
Exhibition location: Special Exhibition Galleries, First Floor
Press preview: Monday, January 26, 10:00 a.m. – noon

Playing with Fire: European Terracotta Models, 1740-1840, the first major museum exhibition devoted to Neoclassical terracotta sculptures, will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 28, 2004. Unprecedented in scale and range, the exhibition unites approximately 135 works from collections throughout Europe and the U.S. Ranging from quick preliminary sketches to completely finished models, the sculptures demonstrate the dash and erudition of modelers across Europe during the Neoclassical age. The international character of the exhibition reflects the broad scope of this rich tradition and includes works by such great modelers as Antonio Canova, Augustin Pajou, Johann Heinrich Dannecker, Philippe-Laurent Roland, and Johan Tobias Sergel. The exhibition also examines the work of sculptors little-known outside their home countries, such as the Russian Mikhail Ivanovich Kozlovsky and the Swiss Valentin Sonnenschein, as well as several anonymous modelers.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund.

Additional support has been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The exhibition has also been supported by Franklin Industries Inc.

The exhibition catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The generations of Neoclassical sculptors active between ca. 1740 and ca. 1830 surpassed all of their forebears in the excellence of their training and the fluency of their modeling. During this period, an unprecedented exchange of ideas took place in the arts, not least among sculptors of various nationalities who met, especially in Rome, to test their skills against each other. Thus the famous Frenchman nicknamed Clodion and the Swede Johan Tobias Sergel gained mutually from the observation of each other's models when in Rome in the 1760s. Later, the great Antonio Canova would prove to be a magnet for all aspiring European sculptors visiting the Eternal City.

This exhibition does not address portraiture as such but one of the highlights is Head of a Bearded Elder (1768, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), by the celebrated French sculptor Augustin Pajou (1730-1809). The head bristles with a barely controlled rage. Recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, the sculpture was unknown to scholars until it was auctioned last year in Paris. The stoical Cato of Utica by Clodion, was acquired at the same sale by the Louvre.

The exhibition is organized thematically. The introductory sections define the stages and usages of modeling as a fundamental part of the creative process, from quick, fiery preliminary sketches to the more finished works that attracted collectors.

Subsequent sections illuminate types of models, such as those for reliefs or funerary monuments, and prevalent themes, such as Bacchic subject-matter and the loves of the gods. Areas will be devoted to the heroes and heroines of Greek mythology and the notion of the Great Man, as sculptors evolved their plans for public statues to honor heroes of the more recent European past.

Thanks to the divisions by function and theme, Canova, Chinard, Dannecker, Roland and Sergel will be seen operating on several levels, with examples in several categories. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see differences among versions of a composition, as for example, three stages of Chinard's Perseus and Andromeda: the first rough sketch from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Lyon; the finished masterpiece from the Accademia di San Luca in Rome; and a rethought reduction from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Following its showing at the Metropolitan, a selection of works from Playing with Fire will travel to the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, where it will be on view May 12-August 29, 2004. The exhibition is currently on view at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The exhibition is organized by James David Draper, Henry R. Kravis Curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum and Guilhem Scherf, chief curator in the sculpture department at the Louvre.

Playing with Fire is accompanied by a catalogue published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, and distributed by Yale University Press. The fully illustrated catalogue includes essays by Guilhem Scherf and James David Draper.

A variety of educational programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition. Gallery talks are scheduled for March 2, 18, and 31, and for April 7. A special program for high school students will take place on April 2, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's Web site, www.metmuseum.org.

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