COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Abstraction in bronze
Ferdinand Parpan. A Bronze Figure of an Elephant, 2000. Courtesy of Christie's.

Ferdinand Parpan. A Bronze Figure of an Elephant, 2000. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Legend has it Henri Matisse spent endless hours sketching and re-sketching swans until he managed to reduce his design to the magnificent and most powerful graphic work, an etching, that is known today as The Swann (Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 1931-1932). For the untrained eye it is hard to comprehend why abstraction takes so much more effort than figurative painting. It takes practice both for the artist to attain that level of abstraction and for the viewer to appreciate the power of the line.

This is even more so in sculpture. A medium that has received short shrift in scholarship, sculpture presents the additional complexity that derives from the nature of the materials used, often difficult to harness and usually deceiving. Ferdinand Parpan (1902-2004), a French sculptor who has had an equal approach to line and abstraction as Matisse did, has created a series of animal sculptures that deserve attention.

Henri Mattise. The Swann, 1931-32. Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Henri Mattise. The Swann, 1931-32. Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Mostly known for his religious subjects, figural groups, and animal sculptures, Parpan, whose ambition destined him for the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, had to compromise when World War I broke and therefore settle for an apprenticeship with an engraver. It is during this short period of time (less than ten years) that Parpan understood the power of design and how it defines the composition and style of each piece. He worked with luxurious materials, such as marble, alabaster, and onyx but also ivory, ebony, and bronze.

While he exhibited widely at a number of Salons in France and won several awards, it was only late in his career that his artistic merit was fully recognized. Today, his sculptural work is sought after by collectors from France, Japan, and California, all three representing regions dedicated to the aesthetics of Modernism.

The luxuriousness of the materials the artist used for his late sculptural work and the high degree of abstraction he achieved establish Parpan as one of the most prominent Modernists. His value, unappreciated due to his choice of medium, is finally picking up momentum especially because his pieces are making it to market through auctions.

© Thomaï Serdari