The muscled and aquiline-nosed man is holding in his left hand a fan composed of feathers - the small tip of a feather is missing - while raising a stick, that is the base of a torch, with his right hand. In a proud and nonchalant posture, he seems to stare the one who would look up at him.
The woman – who has the same posture as the man – also holds a fan made of feathers in her right hand. She is wearing a drapery showing her breast and her neck ornamented with some jewels made of pearls and seashells.
Both the man and the woman are wearing a bracelet on the top of their arm, respectively on the right arm and on the left arm. Details are particularly refined as the accessory seems to be engraved with geometrical patterns. The posture of these statues – a marked hip movement – gives a realistic aspect enhanced by the quality of the details. Indeed, the folds of the draperies and the ribs under the woman's left arm are sculpted with high accuracy.
These two statues were made by the Val d'Osne foundry. We can find models for these sculptures in the sales catalogues of the company, with different bases and torches. On one of the pages of the sales catalogue, we can notice a model of a late 19th century fire fender in cast iron and gilt bronze with female sphinxes made after a model by Eugène Frédéric Piat (1827-1903) that is also available on our website. The illustrations of the statues representing two Native American people differ from the other models offered by the foundry – that look inspired rather by Antiquity – which makes them even more unique. They suggest a form of exoticism through a Western style as the bodies and draperies can refer to the classical models of sculptures made at the same period of time.
During the 19th century, French literature became more and more inspired by American imagery. At the beginning of the century, the writer Chateaubriand travelled to America, which led to works imbued with images of the vast lands of the continent. French literature depicted Native American people as beings close to Nature. Generally speaking, writers and painters associated the vast lands to an utopian vision. Other travellers came back to France with stories that put light on the American society and especially on the situation of Native American people. Little by little, the distance between the New and the Old continents became shorter thanks to technical progress. We can mention the creation of the first regular transatlantic liner just before the second half of the 19th century, which reduced the length of the trip to a few weeks and increased exchanges and publications of books on this subject matter. In 1866, the first transatlantic underwater telegraph cable was laid. Among the authors who influenced the image of North America in France, we can mention for instance Louis de Bellemare, also known as Gabriel Ferry (1809-1852). He knew the south of the United States well and depicted it with details, highlighting the exotic aspect of traditions. He was the pioneer of the Far West novel genre, which combined vast lands, adventure and the struggle for territorial control. These works from the 19th century marked the French imagery, especially the iconography of Native American people, and inspired the creation of sculptures that were similar to our two statues from the Val d’Osne Foundry.
The Val d'Osne company is an art foundry created in 1835 by Jean Pierre Victor André, inventor of cast iron ornament, to manufacture urban furniture in particular. While his workshops were located at Val d'Osne in the department Haute-Marne in the northeast of France, his head office and his exhibition store were located at 58, boulevard Voltaire, in the 11th district of Paris. At his death, his nephew, Hippolyte André (1826-1891), took over the case. The foundry was very important to the point where the foundry soon absorbed competing companies like André, Barbezat and Ducel. It thus became the most important society in art cast iron in France. Famous for its contemporaries, particularly thanks to its monumental fountains, statues and large cast iron groups made after classical antique models or contemporary models, the foundry won several medals at exhibitions of products from French industry. It received a bronze medal in 1834, a silver medal in 1839, and gold medals in 1844 and 1845. It also participated at the World Fairs in London in 1851, in Paris in 1855, in Santiago in 1875, in Melbourne in 1879, in Paris in 1878, where it won the Grand Prix and two gold medals, in 1889 (not competing and jury member) and 1900 (not competing and jury member). This same year, it realized the four large gilded bronze set for the Alexandre III bridge. The sales catalogues of the company allow us today to appreciate the diversity of its objects and its various sources of inspiration. Because what made the reputation of the company, it is also its frequent collaborations with the greatest artists of the time among whom Carrier-Belleuse, Mathurin Moreau, Pradier and Eugène Piat.
This pair of statues made of cast iron representing two Native American people is particularly interesting through its original iconography and the quality of the production. As the work of the largest art foundry company in France, it embodies the increasing interest of French people for the United States at the time and the collective imagery of the New World.