One of the most highly regarded and commercially successful sculptors of his day in France, he was born in Toulouse, the son of a cabinetmaker. His father, recognising his son’s artistic talent (Falguière was also a competent painter), sent him in 1844 to the local École des Beaux-Arts. After winning the city’s major prize, in 1854 Falguière was awarded a grant to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was a pupil of François Jouffroy. While there he supported himself working in the studios of Albert-Ernst Carrier-Belleuse and Jean-Louis Chenillion. He began exhibiting at the Salon in 1857 while still a student, and in 1859 was joint winner (with Léon Cugnot) of the Prix de Rome. In Italy until 1865, while there he met and was strongly influenced by fellow student, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. The sculptures he sent to Paris achieved instant acclaim, with the Winner of the Cockfight (bronze cast in Musée d’Orsay, Paris), Nuccia (untraced) and Omphale (marble in Musée d’Orsay) all being purchased by the State. Omphale was the first in a line of female nudes, ostensibly representing biblical or mythological personages, but with very unclassical, sensual bodies, usually represented in action. A popular example in this series is the Diana, a bronze cast of which stands in the grounds of Lauriston Castle, Edinburgh. The Winner of the Cockfight earned him his first medal, at the 1864 Salon, the plaster Tarcisius, Christian Martyr, his second, in 1867; for the marble version, exhibited in the 1868 Salon (now in the Musée d’Orsay), he was awarded a médaille d’honneur. The Prussian siege of Paris provided the setting for the creation of perhaps his most remarkable work. In December 1870, while serving as a national guardsman, he fashioned a nude female figure, La Résistance, from the deep drifts of snow on the city ramparts, for which morale-raising intervention he was appointed chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (officier, 1878; commandeur, 1889). Although the figure melted away with the thaw, it achieved lasting fame, through Theophile Gautier’s heroizing description of its creation in a pamphlet, Tableaux des sieges, Paris, 1870–1871 (Paris, 1871, pp. 136–42) and, three years later, its portrayal in an etching (Siège de Paris de 1870: Cinq eaux fortes par Bracquemond, Paris, 1874, p. 4). Falguière later made a reduced version of the model, examples of which are in the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse (terracotta) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California (c.1894 bronze cast). His public statues include: in Paris, Asia, 1878, Musée d’Orsay forecourt; Pégase emportant le poète vers les régions du rêve (Salon of 1897), Square Louis Jouvet; and L’Inspiration guidée par la Sagesse, 1900, outside the Palais de la Découverte; in Chambéry, Le Sasson, 1892; and in Toulouse, Monument to Pierre Goudouli, 1898. One of the most successful sculptors of late nineteenth-century France, in 1882 he was appointed a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris and elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts; in 1898, a large retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Nouveau Cirque, Paris, and a special issue of the literary and art magazine, La Plume, was devoted to him; and following his death, the École des Beaux-Arts staged a further major exhibition of his work.
Bibliography: Benezit Dictionary of Artists online, 2011; P. Fusco and H.W. Janson (eds), The Romantics to Rodin. French Nineteenth-Century Sculpture (ex. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Los Angeles and New York, 1980, pp. 255–64; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 2, pp. 489, 490; A. Pingeot, ‘Falguière, Alexandre’, Grove Art Online, 2003; Wikiphidias – L’Encyclopédie des sculpteurs français.
Terry Cavanagh October 2023