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Monday, February 6, 2017

Forgotten sculptor of the Art Deco

Mowgli, by Raymond Delamarre, 1927, patinated plaster.
Those of us who were introduced to The Jungle Book through Disney think of Mowgli as a boy, but he was in fact a young man in Rudyard Kipling’s tales. In fact, when I first saw Raymond Delamarre’s bas relief of Mowgli, above, I took the figure for Adam. He is as perfectly-formed and self-possessed as his ursine and feline companions.  “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” asks the Psalmist, and the question resonates in this work.

Delamarre first met The Jungle Book in 1894. It was a lifelong love. He sculpted many versions of Mowgli in stone and bronze. 
Delamarre's preparatory sketch for Mowgli, above.

Delamarre's life spanned nearly a century of artistic and social upheaval (1890 to 1986). In his time, he was an important Art Deco artist with many commissions. 

Reliefs, Brest war memorial, Raymond Delamarre.
He is remembered for the sensitivity of his memorials. He earned this understanding the hard way. He began his studies at the age of sixteen, but they were interrupted by war. His general conscription at age 21 was followed by the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. Soon after the General Mobilization, Delamarre was taken prisoner. After two years in an enemy camp, he was released in a widespread exchange and returned to the Front.

It was not until the end of the war that he was able to resume his studies. At age 28, he won a Prix de Rome and headed to Italy.

L'Intelligence Sereine and La Force Sévère, from the Suez Canal memorial, Raymond Delamarre

In 1925 Delamarre and architect Michel Roux-Spitz won a competition to build a memorial to the defense of the Suez Canal in 1915 by British, Egyptian, French and Italian troops. Delamarre’s figures represent Serene Intelligence and Severe Force. They are the epitome of Art Deco styling.

Detail from the Suez Canal Memorial, by Raymond Delamarre
From 1961 to 1973, Delamarre managed the business end of the Ateliers d'Art Sacré in Paris. This group was formed by Maurice Denis and Georges Desvallières in an attempt to breathe new life into sacred art. Surprisingly, all three of these avant-garde artists were devoutly religious. The Ateliers were founded to train artists and craftsmen and to create art for churches, particularly those damaged in the Great War. They sought a 20th century language for faith, with emotional response triumphing over conventional symbolism. Perhaps Mowgli-as-Adam isn't just a trick of my imagination after all.

In 1963 Delamarre created the last of his great monuments, twelve bas-reliefs in stone for a hospital designed by his old friend Michel Roux-Spitz. He continued to work on smaller projects—busts, medals, statues and plaques—right up to his death in 1986.

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