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Casting from Life
  • Artist Edouard Dantan (French, 1848 - 1897)
  • TitleCasting from Life
  • Dating 1887
  • Technique/MaterialOil on canvas
  • Dimensions165 x 131,5 cm
  • AcquisitionBequest of Pontus and Göthilda Fürstenberg, 1902
  • Art MovementRealism
  • CategoryOil painting
  • Inventory NumberF 21
  • Display StatusNot shown in the museum
Signatures etc.
Exhibition History
Casting from Life shows the interior of a sculpture workshop, a setting with which the artist was familiar because his father was a sculptor. A sculptor and his assistant are in the process of taking a cast of a female model who is standing on a pedestal with one hand on her hip and the other leaning on a modelling stand. The sculptor, who has his back to the viewer, is in the process of loosening the cast from the model’s leg. Next to him stands a bowl in which the plaster is mixed. On a set of steps lies a lump of clay and a knife. In the background is a plaster copy of Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave, female figures in terracotta, pots, and plaster busts. Although the painting gives a credible picture of the work of a sculptor’s studio, at the same time there are idealized and mythical undertones from art history and the ancient Pygmalion myth.
Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses of the Cypriot sculptor Pygmalion who fell in love with the female statue in ivory that he carved. He prayed to Venus, who brought the sculpture to life. Pygmalion later became the archetype of the Romantic artist’s dream of creating a living work.
The myth was painted in several versions by the academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, who was Dantan’s contemporary. In Dantan the situation is reversed. The sculptor is taking a cast of a living woman in order to create a »dead« sculpture, giving the myth a more prosaic setting. Bearing in mind the replica of Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave in the background, with the man’s hopeless struggle to free himself from his fate, one can possibly read it as a comment on the captivity and liberation of women in the late nineteenth century, a time when women’s emancipation was hotly debated.

Kristoffer Arvidsson from The Collection Gothenburg Museum of Art, Gothenburg 2014