Desbois Mask Desbois Mask Desbois Mask Desbois Mask Desbois Mask
A Sculpted Stoneware and Overglazed Grotesque Mask

By Jules Desbois and Paul Jeanneney, 1904

The grotesque mask overglazed in shades of ochre, brown and green, incised on the reverse Jeanneney 1904 Desbois Sculpteur and GtJ, with the original paper label

11 ¼ in (28.6 cm) long

cf. Pierre Maillot, Raymond Huard, Jules Desbois, sculpteur (1851-1935), Le Cherche Midi, 2001
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Jules Desbois was born in 1851 in Parçay Les Pins in the Maine et Loire region of France. There he studied first under the sculptor Bouriché, and then at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Art and Architecture) in Angers. His early talent enabled him to secure a scholarship at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He worked in the workshop of Cavelier, a former student of David d'Angers. It was there that he picked up a taste for antiquity and learned the art of modelling. Around 1877, he met Rodin in the studio of Eugène Legrain, where both Desbois and Rodin were assisting with the ornamental sculpture for the Palais du Trocadéro. After two years in the United States in the studio of John Quincy Adams Ward, Desbois returned to France. He collaborated with Rodin on several major works including the Burghers of Calais. At that time, Rodin was very much in demand and he surrounded himself with talented sculptors like Desbois himself or Camille Claudel. From this collaboration arose a friendship and mutual influence.

Jules Desbois based his work on exploring movement, on his attachment to feminine models and realism. A perfectionist, he was famous for the intricacy of his modelling and for his use of texture. He was renowned and famous as an artist in his lifetime, and many of his works were bought by the government. Desbois was not only interested in sculpture, he was also keen on decorative art, and he defended its artistic value. From the mid-1890s, he aligned himself with the group of decorative sculptors whose works were sold through Siegfried Bing's shop, La Maison de l'Art Nouveau. His art in pewter was exhibited at the Salon of the Champ de Mars in 1896, and at the exhibition of Société des Six in 1899. Like many of the artists of his period, his work shows the influence of Japan.

The present mask closely resembles the face of one of Desbois' most important works, La Misère, 1894, which can be found in the Musée d'Angers. Opposite the house where Desbois was born is the Musée Jules Desbois. Over 60 of his pieces are displayed in this museum dedicated to his works, sited in the village square of Parçay Les Pins. Other notable works by Jules Desbois are held in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Musée Rodin in Paris, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy.

Paul Jeanneney began his career as a collector of Asian ceramics and it was the japoniste ceramics of Jean Carriès that inspired him to become a ceramist. His work closely resembles Japanese prototypes, as is evident in this piece, its form and subject clearly influenced by the Japanese Noh masks used in traditional theatre in Japan. Its grimacing face also perhaps owes something to Gothic-style gargoyles. While Jeanneney's work draws upon Japanese sources, it still inflects his own personal style.

In 1898, four years after Jean Carriès' death, Jeanneney bought Carriès' former home and studio, Château de Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, from Georges Hoentschel. Once established in the Puisaye area, he rarely travelled to Paris and when he did, it was mostly on business. Jeanneney lived until 1921 and continued to create distinctive japoniste stoneware long after Carriès' death. His ceramics legacy remains of great significance to the French pottery revolution.