JEAN-PIERRE DANTAN JEUNE (Paris 1800 - 1869 Baden-Baden)
Nicolò Paganini (1784 - 1840)
Patinated cast and reworked plaster
Height: 6 1/8 inches (15.5 cm)
Signed Dantan, dated 1832 and inscribed Paganini on back of terrace
Philippe Sorel, Dantan Jeune: Caricatures et portraits de la société romantique: Collections du Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 1989, no. 53
Jean-Pierre Dantan’s extraordinary talents as a sculptor of caricatures are on full display in this remarkable portrait of the celebrated virtuoso violinist Nicolò Paganini. In the small format of the statuette, Dantan captured the power and intensity of this larger-than-life personality, who was known for his dazzling technique, brilliant improvisations, flashy style, and exceptionally fast playing. Paganini’s theatrical antics, as well as the peculiarities of his physique, provided rich fodder for Dantan, who, according to his early biographer Prosper Viro, modeled the portrait from the prompter’s box at one of the maestro’s performances.[i] Dantan emphasized Paganini’s absolute focus on the instrument and conveyed the fervor of his performance through his exaggerated stance and bodily contortions as his exceptionally long, spiderlike fingers fly across the fingerboard.
The son of a wood carver, Jean-Pierre Dantan (Dantan jeune) studied with Francois-Joseph Bosio (1768 - 1845) at the École nationale superieur des beaux arts, Paris. He and his brother Antoine-Laurent—(Dantan ainé, 1798 - 1878), also a budding sculptor—both entered Bosio’s studio in 1823.
Dantan began his career sculpting portrait busts in the academic tradition and he received commissions from the state, including for the Louvre Museum and the Church of the Madeleine. However, the young sculptor soon became interested in caricature at the beginning of the 1830s. Dantan was inspired by his interest in phrenology and by the many Parisian writers, poets, musicians and artists whom he met at the salon of Pierre-Luc Ciceri (1782 - 1868), one of the most famous theatrical set designers in Paris at the time. In 1831 Dantan created a sculpted caricature bust of Ciceri, which brought the sculptor a certain renown in Paris. Dantan quickly began to receive requests from members of the artistic community who heard of his talent. And, by the end of his career, Dantan had created over 500 caricatural busts, or portraits chargé, depicting “toute Paris”—artists, writers, musicians, composers, etc. He opened a small shop in the Passage des Panoramas where many of his caricatural busts were on display and were sold for between 5 and 6 francs apiece. In 1833, Dantan self-published a catalogue called Dantanorama in which the Paganini is illustrated. By 1836, another catalogue titled Museum Dantanorama that included 24 lithographs by Grandville, Ramelet and Lepeudry, was published by Susse and Neuhaus. Dantan continued to add to his pantheon of caricatures, which brought him financial success, to the end of his life.
Along with David d’Angers (1788-1856), Dantan jeune became one of the most renowned sculptors working in France in the 1830s and is remembered to this day for the many caricatures that he produced. His works are in the collections of museums in France and the United States, including the Musée Carnavelet, Paris; the National Gallery, Washington, DC; the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Il.; the Zimmerli Museum, New Brunswick, NJ; and the Iris B. and Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Ca.
[i] Sorel, p. 100 no. 53.