Joseph Bernard | French, 1866 - 1931

The son of a stone-carver, Joseph Bernard was born in the town of Vienne, near Lyon, in Eastern France. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon from 1881 to 1886, and at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1887 to 1890. His early work was modelled in clay and was influenced by Rodin, but from around 1905, he began carving directly in stone. Whereas Rodin and all the major sculptors of the day would create clay originals, cast them in plaster, and then pass these to assistants who would copy them in marble or stone, Bernard simply carved the stone directly with a mallet and chisels. In this highly original approach, he prefigured sculptors such as Brancusi and Modigliani.

Bernard exhibited at the Salon des Société des Artistes Français from 1892 to 1900, at the Salon des Société National des Beaux-Arts in 1901 and then did not exhibit again until his solo exhibition at the Galerie A. A. Hébrard in 1908. From 1905 to 1911 he worked on a Monument to Michel Servet for the town of Vienne in Isère, 30 km south of Lyon. Measuring 6 metres in height, Bernard carved the monument directly into stone with scarcely any help from assistants. His carving technique informed the appearance of his works, which tend to be compact in form, with limbs tight to the body and the hair bunched and plaited. This style extended to his modelled works, the most celebrated of which is Jeune fille à la cruche. His style had a profound impact on European sculpture in the 1920s. In 1914 Bernard had a major solo exhibition at the Galerie Les Arts, Paris, where he showed eighty sculptures – it was this exhibition which cemented his reputation.

From 1913 to 1918, largely because of the labour that he expended on the Servet monument, Bernard was seriously ill and practically ceased working. Consequently, many of his post-war works are variants of earlier models. In the early 1920s he became celebrated as the ‘father’ of the direct carving movement which was at that time sweeping Europe and the USA. He exhibited numerous works, including Jeune fille à la cruche and variants and enlargements of his pre-war Frieze of the Dance (the original marble is in the Musée d’Orsay), at the great Exposition des Arts Décoratifs of 1925. This marked the apogee of Bernard’s fame and established him as one of the originators of the Art Deco style. Following his death in 1931, there was a major retrospective at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, in 1932. His work features in museums throughout the world, most notably at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where several works are on permanent display, alongside the work of Maillol and Bourdelle.