National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the proceeds of the 2008 National Gallery of Victoria Annual Dinner, 2007
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Mid 20th Century Paintings & Decorative Arts Gallery Level 2, NGV International
The artist Pompon studied and drew the animals in the Paris zoo. Then he made smooth sculptures of them, including this one of a polar bear, made from bronze. Pompon also modelled a polar bear in plaster and even carved one, larger than real life, from marble. People loved his animals and he became very famous.
François Pompon is known for his engaging animal sculptures that capture the essential character of creatures in smooth and abbreviated form. In his final years he was widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest living sculptors. Pompon’s early sculptures were modest in scale until, in 1922, he began a sculpture of a Polar bear, 2½ metres long.
A plaster version of the Polar bear was shown at the Salon d’Automne of 1922. Sleek, subtly modelled and devoid of all non-essential detail, the work was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of modern sculpture. A celebratory dinner was held for 300 guests and Pompon, now sixty-seven years old, was acclaimed as the greatest animal sculptor since Antoine-Louis Barye.
At the Paris 1925 exhibition, a small bronze version of the Polar bear was exhibited in Ruhlmann’s Hôtel d’un Collectionneur. A period photo-lithograph of the Hôtel’s Grand Salon, shows the Polar bear placed on one of Ruhlmann’s circular occasional tables in the centre of the room. The Polar bear became an iconic work at the 1925 exhibition and small ceramic versions of the work sold in the thousands. Following the exhibition, a full-size stone replica was commissioned for the Musée de Luxembourg, the French national museum of modern art at the time, and a smaller version was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.